We spent almost none of our discretionary income in the month of September. This is a simple matter for a single person, but it's not so straightforward for a married couple. Negotiations commence about what is a necessity and what is a luxury. If we're doing this at all, why this month? If you're counting my special personal expenditure, do I get to count yours? Money is a minefield for a lot of couples. Even arching your eyebrow like you're thinking about talking about it can come across as confrontational. The only way you can gain any ground with your finances is if you can both agree to have strategic, no-fault discussions.
We've decided to work toward financial independence. This is a goal that we both find exciting. Neither of us needs convincing that it's a good idea. Most people default to "I can't deprive myself," which is why most people have issues with the trifecta of debt, clutter, and body fat. It only feels like deprivation if you let it. We think of our future selves and we don't want to deprive ourselves then. Poor Future Me, tiny, frail, and too old to work. I want her to have plenty of money so she won't be afraid of what will happen to her. As for the two of us, we both want to be free to enjoy ourselves while we're young enough to do it. None of our small, ordinary splurges can really compete with our knowledge of how much we love travel.
We're pretty frugal in daily life. We live in a 728-square-foot house. You know your house is small when your friends in their 20s come over and tell you it's smaller than their apartments. We don't have cable, we don't drink alcohol, and both of us hate shopping. Our money mostly goes to travel, foo-foo groceries, and spoiling our pets. Where were we going to cut back?
Well, obviously we're never going to quit spoiling our pets. What's left?
We had fallen into the habit of going to the movie theater every weekend, sometimes twice, and on rare occasions, even three times. Tickets are expensive there, but the real issue was popcorn. Not for the cost as much as for the calories. The main reason we cut back on restaurants several years ago was that we couldn't maintain our weight if we went out more than two meals a week. Popcorn falls into that category. Sometimes we would go out for cocoa the same night, and that was an anchor our waistlines couldn't afford. We decided that for our low-spend month, we would skip the movies, go to the gym more often, and do an online course together.
The other area where we were spending more than we wanted was specifically at Starbucks. We both like doing work there, and we'd monopolize a table for two or three hours. This was the area that took a bit of negotiating back in August. We decided to look at the low-spend month as an experiment. The plan was to test out "better than Starbucks" recipes for our preferred beverages and see if we could find any we liked. We stopped at the first iteration. I got a little battery-powered frother for my birthday, and it's been fun making our own foam. The other thing we did was to make fancy breakfasts on the weekends, which we like about 3x more than the oatmeal we were getting at SB. Upshot: we saved money having a nicer breakfast at home, not looking for parking, not waiting for a table, not wiping up someone else's spills, and not accidentally touching the used gum someone else stuck under the table. I prefer the image of myself as a Starbucks investor rather than a Starbucks customer, although if everyone thought that way, my stock wouldn't be worth that much.
I was a little nervous in August, thinking that 30 days seemed like an eternity. I was worried that our pent-up desire to spend on something like a new parrot toy or an enticing new release movie would drive us crazy within two weeks. The truth is that there was no drama whatsoever. We just did our class, made our breakfasts, listened to a bunch of financial independence podcasts, and cleaned out the garage. My husband lost five pounds. At our age, a month really isn't a very long time.
Pitfalls abound. Most people remain confused and spacey about their finances. Some flip out the minute there's any talk of budgeting (which we did not do; budgets aren't really necessary) and feel like they're suffocating, so they run out and want to spend more right away. Anyone who watches TV commercials or flips through checkstand magazines is constantly exposed to advertisements that make us want a lifestyle an order of magnitude more expensive than what we can afford. Pinterest is another time suck that exposes us to aspirational lifestyles. The easiest way to do it is to focus on gratitude for what you have right now. None of the best stuff costs money at all.
What's fun to do that doesn't cost money? Napping. Going to bed early. Snuggling your pets. Learning new things. Building muscle. Reading. Sitting around talking. Planning for the future. Experimenting on recipes. Walking around the neighborhood. Feeling like you're in a better place this month than you were last month.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.