On January 15, I declared that I was going to live a simpler and richer life by having and buying less stuff and doing more of what matters. I had outlined three main themes as part of my plan:
- Don’t buy anything unless it’s urgent - yes, it’s a flexible definition.
- Use (and enjoy) what I have.
- Focus on spending time with and giving to others.
In March, I reported my first two months, giving myself a "B-" because I could have done a better job in the first two categories. Have I improved my performance over March and April? Let's take a look.
Here's a summary of activity by category:
1. Don’t buy anything unless it’s urgent.
Our purchases for March and April of 2015 were the following:
- A new microwave ($169.50): I know! Here's the deal: our old one of 12+ years gave out and the part to fix it was going to cost nearly as much as buying a new one. So we bit the bullet and we're quite happy with our purchase, a deeply discounted model.
- Groceries ($2,028.00, 12% more per month than last year's trend): Yup, we went wild. We stocked up on some sale items we were running low on and our the dent we made in our freezer and pantry have been slowed considerably as a result. The biggest purchases were 8 free-range chickens and 3 turkeys.
- Personal Growth and Relationships ($1425.91, 36% of total spend): this includes fees and airfare for two of the three trips planned for this year, professional development courses and going out with friends and family. More on these below.
- Entertainment ($35.67): Netflix and a few movie rentals. Nothing exciting there. The money could have been better spent with active entertainment.
The groceries were a bust, but I know we'll be buying far less this coming period. We absorbed a twice-a-year chicken purchase and bought $0.95/lb turkeys around Easter because they're such a great price. I also stocked up on regular use sale items at Costco (dishwashing soap, bacon bits, bar soap and tissues). Despite the high grocery costs, we've still managed to use up old pantry items that had been hanging around for far too long, which means shelves are slowly clearing.
What I'm most pleased with is the experiential purchases we've made this month. We spent 66% more in this category, which covers travel, education, health, leisure activities, and getting together with friends (over coffee, drinks, meals).
This spending allowed us to pay for professional development for both my husband and me, catch up with dozens of friends by hosting and/or attending many events, and book two more trips for 2015: Minneapolis over the summer and Vancouver in the fall (we booked this one just because...what better reason?). This was definitely money well spent.
2. Use & enjoy what I have.
USE OR REUSE WHAT WE HAVE
We've been looking for bar stools for our kitchen counter because the 20+ year-old set we have is falling apart. We're down to 2 stools and we know we need to replace them. There was an opportunity to purchase a set of 4 used bar stools (see right) that are fancier than what we currently have for $450...and we passed! I was pleased that we didn't get sucked into that purchase because, though they're beautiful, it just feels like money that we can better invest/spend elsewhere. I'm still patting myself on the back for our restraint on that one. Our old bar stools will just have to do until the right deal comes along.
We've also agreed to take my mother's sewing machines (a basic Singer from her mother, along with a serger and an industrial model). These will allow me to (re)learn to sew and fix clothing items we love that just need a little TLC and/or hemming. I'm pleased to be able to use the machines my mom used for years. It's a real treat.
I'm also ready to start another cross-stitching project on my grandmother's loom (below right). I have many stitching supplies and projects that I've waited too long to start on. It's a wonderful meditative activity that I know I'll enjoy resuming this year.
GIVE OR SELL WHAT WE DON'T USE OR NEED
Progress on getting through reading my personal book collection hasn't inched along as I'd like (the library has quite a pull on me), but at least I am half-way through one (The Naked Ape). It's a start. I also gave away a half dozen books I know I just won't bother reading. It felt good, despite the activity barely making a dent in our stacks.
We also managed to give away a large box of clothing again this period. Yup, the microwave box came in handy (below right). This time it went to Big Brothers & Big Sisters. We also gave a brand new pair of shoes away to a local mission. It felt good to purge more clothing out of our closet. All told, 7 pairs of shoes and dozens of garments left the house. Not too shabby!
3. Focus on spending time with and giving to others.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Over the past two months, we've attended:
- Birthday celebrations
- We hosted 20 family members for a great Easter lunch...and dinner. (We were all having so much fun, they stayed for supper!)
- Coffees/lunches with mom and step dad
- Dog walking with my step dad
- Walks and outings with my mom (yes, despite the bitterly cold weather)
- Multiple small coffee dates at home and out and about with friends
We've continued our focus on staying connected with others and it looks like we'll keep focusing on making more of these opportunities happen. If anything, this is the area I'm most proud of. The more time we can spend with others, the better we feel. That said, one thing my husband and I need to do more of though is spend time with each other and we know it. We'll certainly be working on that this over the balance of the year.
CHARITABLE GIVING (TIME AND MONEY)
Lots of improvement in this category! We've managed to help out a few people by using some elbow grease to lift and move things and even cut down a sizeable tree. We've also been able to help a few friends work through some tough decisions and situations.
Wait, there's more! We also did a little dog sitting...AND we've even taken in another foster. We haven't fostered for a while, so this is a big change. Meet Beezie (below, right). She's already buddies with our Belle and has weaselled her way into our hearts despite having been with us for just a short time.
I've also started volunteering at a local shelter for a half-day per week. I've signed up for two months for now. We'll see what happens and, assuming it's a fit, I'll likely extend the commitment.
Overall score for this second update? B+
Here's how I'm scoring my efforts over the last few months:
- I give myself a "B+" for the "not buying anything unless it's urgent" category, mostly because of the large grocery purchases. It would have been a "C" again, were it not for the purposefulness of the purchases, and smart decision to pass on the bar stools we almost purchased a few weeks ago. I feel zero guilt or regret when it comes to the microwave because we use that appliance A LOT. Now this might merit a "B" at most, so why the "+"? Because we decided to up our spending on learning and travel, an investment in ourselves that was on the light side for 2015 until this period. Those decisions are much better for our quality of life than focusing on "stuff".
- I give myself a "B" again for the "using what we have" category because we did purge again over the last few months. Hopefully the trend will continue.
- I give myself an "A" in the "giving" category this time, up from the previous "B". We've definitely upped our game and we'll work to maintain this good behaviour.
This makes my overall score a "B+", which is only slightly better than my "C" from early March. I know I can do a better job and this retrospective has been helpful in identifying the behaviours I should focus on either maintaining or correcting. The way I see it, at least we're moving in the right direction overall, even if we're not Acing it...yet.
Are you trying to improve your performance in any given area(s)? How's it going?