My Buy Nothing Month

25 May

I spend too much money.

Well, I consider it too much money. I don’t have much money to spend, after the mortgage and the groceries, hydro, the internet and phone bills. Child support pretty much all goes to child care.

When I do the math though, there should be more. I shouldn’t get to the end of the month having a freaking panic attack about where I’ll shuffle the money from to pay the hydro bill. I should be able to save a bit here and there so if I want a weekend away, it isn’t a huge stress.

I’m fairly confident that there are a few hundred dollars in a month that I’m flittering away stupidly. Coffee and trips to the thrift store and ill-advised KFC lunches. Crap. Junk I don’t need, food that isn’t good for me, things I could do at home. You know, all the stuff they tell us not to do.

I’m a single mom. Money doesn’t grow on trees. My ex-husband is great about paying support, but that’s eaten in child care, and I can only do so much to earn extra. The money only stretches so far. Food costs more. Doing anything costs more.

I already buy most if not all clothes used, 90% of books and toys are the same. I occasionally treat myself to new books (like Homesteading and Backyard Ballistics) but even those books have a point-feeding my household and living a lower impact life, and keeping the kids occupied while terrifying my neighbours. We don’t eat high on the hog, I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, I don’t even go to the freaking movies anymore. I cut off my cable. I have a cheap cell phone plan, reduced my internet level.

And still I feel like I can’t catch up.

So in June, I’m gonna stop it for a bit. I don’t do well with budgets, and frankly need a keeper to give me an allowance. But since that isn’t going to happen, I’m committing to this instead.

In the month of June, there will be NO non-essential spending.

I will consider the following essential

  • Standard bills-my mortgage, hydro, sewer, and cable bills (this holds my phone bills as well)
  • Food. I will reduce and attempt to plan meals so I am spending less, but honestly, I’m mostly as low as I can go without eating liver everyday as it is.
  • Garden supplies. If I’m putting in a garden in order to save on food this summer/fall, this will matter long-term.
  • Medical expenses, if any.
  • Household repair, if needed.
Everything else at this point, is gravy.
I know there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in my budget. Frankly, selling my house would open up more money, but then that just gives me an entirely new set of problems and doesn’t figure into possible long-term plans right now. I have to face it-I’m poor.
But part of facing that is understanding that 2.50 on a coffee each day just isn’t feasible. Not when I cringe to spend 3.99 on a box of tea I love. It doesn’t make much sense does it?I think that along with my extremely fucked up way of dealing with eating-i.e. as a source of emotional comfort, money is a crutch. I didn’t have much as a child, and when my mother died, I had open access to two things for awhile when we were hurting-food and money. All I got for this was a fat ass and an inability to handle money.
Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m too old for it, and I want to change. And just like smoking, I think I need to do it cold turkey. Cut the cord. Get the spending under control, and hopefully the eating will follow.
I want change. The person I want to be isn’t the person who wastes money on crappy food or shoes she doesn’t need. So for June, I will be documenting daily how it goes. I’m not comfortable disclosing dollar amounts, but what I want to do is explore the WHY. Why I want to spend. Why I feel that blind urge to spend money, even knowing that it won’t make me feel better for fix any problems.
Any advice, any guidance is welcome. But remember, I’m not handling a 6 figure income here. I’m barely hanging on some months, and it sucks, but I can do better. I want to do better.

26 Responses to “My Buy Nothing Month”

  1. Misty May 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    I’m trying to stop the bleeding too. It seems like it doesn’t matter how much money we have, we live at the edge of it.
    For food, I’m not sure how much you eat meat, but it’s cheaper to buy straight from the farmer and freeze it than from the store. The farmers market is more expensive I find for most things, except meat. Most will take orders and pick them up the following weekend.
    Plant most of your garden with vegetables that you can freeze or store, such as peas, beans, carrots, onions and potatoes. I find broccoli hard to grow. Use a cold frame to extend the growing season of your greens. Avoid expensive crops to grow such as corn. It’s cheaper to buy corn on the cob when it’s on sale for $2 for 6, than to try to grow it.

    That’s all I got. Good luck.

    • thordora May 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      My BF can get some awesome happy cow ground beef that Viv loves, but my issue is always coming up with the (large for me) amount of money for it. So I’m hoping that I can sock away some money in June to put towards it. 20 pounds of ground beef goes a LOOOONNNGGGG way with a 7 year old.

      Current garden plan-tomatoes (baby for Viv, plum for sauce since I otherwise detest the damn things), zucchinni to shred and store, basil for pesto and peas. Nothing big as it’s been a few years. I plan to learn to can this summer as well. I’m losing money moving to a different shift so something has to give.

      • Marcy May 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

        Get a craigslist upright or chest freezer if you can, and buy a quarter or half beef, once you’ve saved up for it. It’ll likely last you a year or two.

  2. hodgepodge May 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Good for you. This is never easy, but so necessary. We went through this a couple of years ago and while we’ve slipped back some, we’re nowhere near as profligate with the frittering away as we used to be. It’s a tough habit to break, but once you do, it’s nearly impossible to go all the way back.

    Take a notebook with you wherever you go and write down every penny you spend. Cash purchases that you don’t normally get a receipt for – like coffee & lunches – are the ones that’ll kill you, in the end. Check your bank statement to see what you’re spending in bank fees every month – if you’re someone who does a lot of debit transactions, you may be handing over money to them every month and that’s one easily fixed. Grow tomatoes too, if you like them. They’re super-easy to grow, you get crazy high yield (our four plants last year gave us at least 40 pounds) and you can freeze or preserve them easily (we only just ate the last jar of preserves from last fall about a week ago).

    Make sure that in your budget you leave *some* room for entertainment. Even if, like we have done, your entertainment & food budgets are combined (we buy ourselves higher-quality ingredients than we should, maybe, but we don’t drink or go out much, so we figure it balances out). I agree that a shock to the system like a Buy Nothing Month can be a good kick in the pants, but long-term you need to have some portion of your money for play, even if it’s tiny. If every single penny you spend goes for needs and not even a little bit goes for wants (maybe get that latte once a week, instead of every day, for example) you will not stick to your budget and you will always feel deprived and angry.

    Good luck. We’re rooting for you.

    • thordora May 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

      I have to start writing shit down, and leaving the damn cards at home. Period. It’s so hard doing this shit on one income.

      Thankfully going to Frenchy’s for books IS my form of entertainment (found an unabridged Grimm today!) and otherwise I have no money to spend on things. My idea here is to kick start ME into a: spending less and B: examining the triggers causing the spending. Cause it’s retarded at this point.

  3. Natalie May 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    I’m rooting you on too. Our household is about to take a drastic turn at the end of this summer with my husband’s EI running out…drastic. One income was “doable” with him on EI…one income will be very difficult, without major changes, without that extra money. BUT…we’ve done it before.

    Meal planning helps and so does carving out a small “necessary” fun budget…I’m talking really low…like 10$/week…you have to get pretty damn creative on 10$..I have found that I didn’t as bitter about not having money if I did have “some” fun money.

    It is a good idea to write it all down. I’ve done that several times in the 10 years we’ve lived here…and have found that i was spending stupidly on things like coffee, lazy lunches, magazines, etc…even IF it’s only like 3-4$ at a time…it all adds up and once your break a 10$ or a 20$, it pretty much gets eaten up by other random shit. Once I see it on paper, it makes it harder to justify.

    ONLY use cash. No debit, no credit card, it’s too easy. Only cash. When I am trying to really be strict, I withdraw a certain amount and I HAVE to make it last (emergencies aside).

    Those things seem to keep me on track and minimize stupid spending. I hate how money is the source of so much emotional comfort and also such anxiety….I’ve gotten a bit better at handling it lately…but I fear that at the end of this summer (when the EI runs out) that I’ll be in a similar boat of constant anxiety…and wondering which Peter I should steal from to pay off Paul.

    Good luck!

    • thordora May 25, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

      It’s totally the random shit-the Timothy’s run in the morning, the stupid vending machines at work, McDick’s when I’m in a hurry and starving. Some of that will end once I’m off a split shift but my impulse control is a huge issue. Even if it’s 25 or 50 bucks a week-that can be the difference between paying my hydro on time or not.

      You guys can do it-but it will be tough for both of us!

  4. trinity67 May 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    You’ve mentioned that selling your home “doesn’t figure into possible long-term plans right now”. Speaking from the standpoint of someone who knows nothing about your situation (and therefore may be putting her foot in her mouth and if so, she profusely apologizes for that) but I think it would make the most sense for you to sell your house because of how much easier your life could be now while also providing you with the opportunity of being able to more easily plan for yours and your children’s futures. Again if I’m barking up the wrong tree I do apologize, it’s just my two cents’ worth. :o)

    • thordora May 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

      Trust me, I’ve considered it…the mortgage isn’t up for another few years (thank you ex for letting it be renewed 2 months before telling me you were leaving :S) and I don’t want to pay the penalty…and I won’t be able to sell it for much, so I’d like to get at least another year in on the mortgage so when we do sell, it’s enough to pay off the mortgage, the credit line, and give my ex and I a few thousand to get back on our feet somewhere else. I’d like the equity to pay me.

      My house looks like shit because I don’t have the time or money to fix it, and if a few hundred dollars in spackle, paint and drywall will add a few thousand, it’s worth the wait.

      Trust me, I would like to unload at this point.

  5. sweetsalty kate May 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Oh, god, the frittering. Yeah. Hats off. You can do this. You’ve inspired me…

    • thordora May 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

      I hope I can do it. I think we all fritter, and I wonder if it’s programmed in on a social level or what….

  6. Marcy May 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    I am actually worse with cash. I am a little more disciplined with the credit card. I think having to record (and possibly reveal) what my frittering accomplishes would be highly motivating.

    One interesting change I’ve made in the last few months is I’m not eating cereal. Instead I bought the biggest bag of almonds at Wal-mart (and soaked and crisped them to neutralize something, I forget what), a pound of nitrate-free bacon at the farmers market, free range eggs from the same market, buttermilk, whole wheat flour and “white” whole wheat flour, plain yogurt, and maple syrup. I still have frozen blueberries and peaches picked last summer. So breakfast these days is pancakes, or eggs, or soaked oatmeal, or yogurt with fruit and almonds, or sometimes any of these with a bit of bacon alongside.

    Even though the individual ingredients are pricy, I think I’m getting more mileage from them than I did from a box of cereal — plus I’m never as hungry by lunchtime as I was when I ate only cereal.

    • thordora May 25, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      I hate cereal for the EXACT same reasons. Doesn’t fill me up, actually makes me kinda nauseous. It’s one of the reasons I have hated breakfast for a long time. When I have time I make waffles or eggs/bacon, or some oatmeal with milk, a little vanilla and some brown sugar. Otherwise I carry sweet/salty bars or yogurt and granola to mow thru at work. I find I crave either protein or complex carbs in the morning, and they get me thru.

      I have discovered that too much sugar in the morning? Means NASTY NASTY mean me later….and oatmeal and bacon? Kinda is cheaper than 5.99 sugar cereal.

      • Marcy May 25, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

        I didn’t notice the nausea until after college, I think. Oatmeal made just with milk does the same thing to me. Lately I’ve been soaking it — one cup oatmeal, one cup warm water, two tablespoons of buttermilk, overnight in a warmish place. Next morning cook it up with a pinch of salt, almost a cup of milk (depending on how soupy you like it).

        On days when I have a bit of extra time, I make a double batch of waffles, french toast, or pancakes, and we get two more breakfasts out of the leftovers. I set them out individually to cool, freeze them, then when we want to eat them, put them on a stone or a pan in the cold oven and turn it to 350. They heat up while I get dressed and wash my face.

        Some folks have told me oatmeal freezes and reheats well, too, but I haven’t tried it.

        I’ve also seen recipes for flourless egg “muffin” things that you can freeze and reheat.

        Too much sugar any time for me is bad. Mean and cranky, depressed, anxious, paranoid, and fatter. That’s one downside of oatmeal, pancakes, etc — I really need the maple syrup on them. But it’s still better than sugar and fake sugars.

        • thordora May 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

          Yeah, the sugar thing is weird isn’t it? I don’t like much sweet on my pancakes or waffles, and the real maple isn’t as bad as the fake stuff. I just wish I had more time…

  7. Sue May 25, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    I did this a couple of times over the last few years and it does work as a shock doctrine even if only for a short time. Two habits that I’ve always managed to keep are: taking a big thermos of coffee to work everyday so that I don’t waste money on coffee shop coffee that only gives me the jitters anyway. This strategy also allows me to buy nice home brew and cream for the house b/c it’s still far cheaper than buy take-out. I also make big batch suppers and freeze my lunches–every single day. There’s always minestrone or some such thing in my freezer. This seems like a lot of work but once it becomes a habit, it isn’t really bad at all. Besides my only daytime food option is Sodexo so that keeps me on the straight and narrow.

    As for the rest, godspeed. I know that I am notorious for frittering and frittering and frittering. I need a cork.

    • thordora May 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

      I’m getting better with the coffee/tea thing…trying to wean to mint tea from coffee since my sleep is soooo much better without it. The big meal/freeze thing is another habit I need, and one I hope to adopt once I move to a condensed shift in a bit. 3 days off should mean actual stuff done!

      and aye, a cork would be nice. 😀

  8. Jennifer May 25, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    You’ve likely heard of this woman:

    She has budget worksheets

    Which can help you determine what you have to spend where. Then, when I’m needing to do exactly what you are doing, I employ envelopes (she uses canning jars) and portions out a weekly allowance into each envelope. It REALLY helps. Also, you need to track the spending from every envelope so you know where the major leaks are.

    🙂 Good luck. We need to do this again ourselves. I blame the spring on the urge to spend.

    • trinity67 May 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      Yeah, Gail is AWESOME.

    • thordora May 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      My issue is that there is barely anything to put IN the jars right now. I’m pretty sure I know wher the money is going, and want to do the full stop to see just how much.

      I have a knee jerk hate for budgets. What I need to learn is to just not spend, period.

      • Jennifer May 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

        The problem with the whole “don’t spend anything” idea, is that pretty soon debt exhaustion sets in and old habits come back. You can’t live day to day without budgeting in the odd cup of coffee or night out. You need “treats” too.

  9. opal May 27, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    IDK if you have public transportation where you are, but if you do, look into it. You will save tons of money on gas and insurance, not to mention a car note. It”s a pain in the ass sometimes, people think we’re weird, but it works. I am a mother of 2 and married, we do not own a vehicle. I either walk or take a bus everywhere I go. Great exercise too.

    • thordora May 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      I don’t drive so it’s the bus or two feet and a heartbeat for me. When I can, I walk to work (.5kms or so) but the bus is useful-58 a month is a LOT cheaper than a vehicle. Although I love having my BF here when I need groceries 😀

      And yeah, people think it’s weird here too but hey, I’m saving the money.

  10. Jess (afteriris) May 27, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    What a great idea. We need to do this too. I think June is the month. Inspired.

    • thordora May 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      We should pool our savings and buy Bali. 😀

  11. Cynthia May 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Oh boy do I relate. No smoking for comfort? Eat. No eating for comfort? Spend. Must get back to accepting discomfort so I don’t lean so heavily on crutches. Ugh.

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