January was no typical month for us. But one thing we’ve learned with our monthly budget is that there is no such thing as a typical month. There’s no point in waiting for things to be “normal” before embarking on a frugal journey. We’ve had babies, done home repairs, and traveled to Haiti in the midst of our attempts to be frugal. In fact, frugality isn’t about not doing anything, it’s about living a life centered around your values and mission rather than spending on yourself.
This means giving up some luxuries and even some conveniences. It means planning ahead when going out, anticipating our needs, and doing a lot of things ourselves rather than outsourcing. It isn’t always easy being frugal, but it’s a lifestyle we’ve come to embrace.
The benefits of frugality are real. 2016 counts as a victory for us. We spent less on ourselves than we did in 2015, and were able to donate a higher percentage of our income than ever before to causes we believe in. That’s why we do this crazy stuff.
This January we participated in Frugalwoods über frugal month with over 10,000 other participants. Here are some of my reflections on the month (from the Frugalwoods blog), as someone who has been on this frugal journey for a while, but is always looking for new ways to save and cut back even more.
What was difficult?
While I wouldn’t call this month difficult at all, I think the hardest thing was getting on the same page with Josh about what “uber frugal” really means. We each had different definition and different terms this month. Is driving to this or that place uber frugal? Is buying snacks for my travels frugal? (I say yes because it saves me from eating airport food!) Should we wait to get an oil change or is that just deferred spending? You get the idea. Both of us were excited to jump in, but we had different things we thought were frugal and different things that we considered off limits, even for UFM.
How did I feel during the month?
I never felt depleted or worn-out with frugality this month. Maybe that means we didn’t commit enough…or maybe it just means we’re getting used to this lifestyle? I spent 10 days in Haiti this month (tickets bought with credit card reward points!) and I’ve honestly never felt so rich before. There is nothing like a third-world country to remind you that you’re rich and blessed and spoiled. Coming home didn’t feel frugal at all, but incredibly luxurious! I felt thankful for the little luxuries I did have, like some beers that were already in the fridge, some movies that I already owned, a nice run, homemade coffee, etc. I’m completely spoiled – even without spending a dime.
What was easier than I expected?
I fully expected grocery shopping to be the hardest part, because we often are right at or slightly above our $400/month goal. I was pleasantly surprised that we only spent $215 this month without making any huge sacrifices. (I mean, we already eat a lot of rice and beans and don’t buy meat.) Part of this was not buying very much fruit, honey, or nuts. We used less or went without those little treats. We also didn’t feed a lot of additional people (although we’re pretty much always open to hosting, we didn’t do any house shows this month due to my travels.) Let’s just face it, the timing helped. We have our parents to thank for feeding our kids while I was out of the country. So that was easier than expected and I’m thankful. We haven’t had a food bill like that since Frugal Grocery Month!
What elements of the UFM are sustainable?
I think almost everything we did to save money this month was sustainable in some way. Small things really do add up: biking to work, getting down from two cars to just one, running to the library, not eating meat, not eating out, not paying for the gym, not buying clothes, not running the heat or AC all the time, using Airvoice instead of ATT. These are changes we’ve made gradually over time, but they have made a huge dent in our overall expenses as a family. This month our only non-food / non-gas / non-bill / non-giving spending was a bottle of cough syrup for Malachi (it must have miraculously healed him because Josh said he took one dose and was fine afterward.)
How can I bring mindful frugality into every aspect of my life?
While I don’t necessarily advocate buying nothing but a magical bottle of cough syrup every month, I do think there is something great about realizing how little we actually need. It can be fun to challenge yourself occasionally, especially if you’re able to give away the excess money saved!
Did I have “wants” this month? Yes! I’m human and I have those urges too. I would have really enjoyed an afternoon at the thrift store looking for treasures or some new houseplants from Ikea. But those things are optional. Those things are luxuries. I don’t need those things in order to be happy. In fact, minimizing and delaying little luxuries like that makes them all the more special when I am able to indulge. Mindful frugality is about living a purposeful life that doesn’t prioritize the material. With a larger goal in mind, giving up a few little extras here and there is pretty easy.
How about you? How was your month? Were you intentionally frugal or just on cruise-control? Did you learn anything new from the daily Frugalwoods emails? Let me know how we can encourage one another to stay on track now that it’s a new month!