Saturday, February 23, 2013

USE IT UP sounds scary

My USE IT UP strategy may be making some people uncomfortable. I first learned this when I told my friend and coworker Keshia about my theme for the year. I told her that I want to assess what I have and if I don't use it then I need to organize, repair, clean, or give it away so it does get used. She said that if I start giving away my stuff people are going to wonder if something is wrong with me, and that Grannies do that in preparation for the Great Beyond. I assured her that I am just moving some of the excess STUFF out of my space and she seemed OK with that. Frugal February didn't sit so well with her either because we enjoy eating lunch out together, and she felt this was going to put a cramp in her eating plans (neither one of us like to deny ourselves a good meal). Then she remembered that I tend to cook way too much food and would probably be bringing enough to share, so she came around on that too. Later we agreed that we need to institute a monthly potluck at work so we can all enjoy each other's home cooking.

Then when I announced on Facebook that I was wasn't buying anything but groceries and gas in February, a few folks - I'm talking to you Darrel, Shawna and Michelle - started throwing what-ifs and temptations my way, as if I needed their help to find loopholes in my self imposed rules! So what is it about this USE IT UP thing that has people squirming a little? I think that our society has us oriented towards over-consuming, even though this is against our best nature. And that even though we're told (over and over and over by advertisers) that we'll somehow be made happier by that next purchase, our best selves know this isn't true. My throwing out that intention to the universe reminds folks of what they know already - that we have way too much stuff in our lives! And nobody likes a know-it-all so I guess I'm going to quiet down on my USE IT UP frugality and just do it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Am Not A Genius

image from the Sugar and Spice blog on Frugal February

Just for kicks I Googled "frugal february". Boy was I surprised to see a whole lot of links, including one from someone in their 7th year of Frugal February! But wait, how can that possibly be when I thought of that idea all on my own just last month? some kind of weird time-travel-vulcan-mind-meld thing I guess. So here are the highlights I've culled from all these other copy-cat February spendthrifts:

  1. Why February? other than drive people mad with your alliterative corniness - there are some darned good reasons - mine was that it's a short month :)
  2. Using a spreadsheet budget to see where you get spendy and therefore measure your savings during Frugal February. I am pretty much on a cash only basis for all miscellaneous purchases so this made it easy to keep track of for me. 
  3. Questions for taking inventory so that you can best use up what you already have rather than buying more. Taking inventory was actually my first step in my whole USE IT UP campaign.  
  4. Saving on food, especially if you like organic and expensive food like I do.

Sometimes I need to rustle around the interweb for ideas to get and keep me motivated. Now I'm really determined to have a Frugal February!

PS. luckily my bar is stocked so I didn't need to go the no drinking route... :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Being Rich

"He who knows he has enough is rich" - Tao Te Ching

I have never wanted to be rich. I don't have fantasies about winning the lottery. I don't feel a longing desire for any particular thing that may or may not be within my reach such as a particular pair of shoes, or vacation, or watch, or kitchen appliance. I have no doubt that my happiness is not at all tied up in the things I could buy. And yet, I don't really KNOW that I have enough, at least in that visceral way that Tao Te Ching seems to be referring to. And, I love beautiful things and feel a lot of bothersome temptation over things that I see in stores. For example, I definitely have enough scarves (I am embarrassed to say I have over 30), but is one pair of jeans "enough"? I keep thinking I need a second pair but one is probably enough since I used to have two but really only wore one because it was my favorite...

One of the things that I am really enjoying about this no spend month is the freedom from wanting to buy stuff, or even having to ponder or consider buying stuff, that I may or may not need. The agonizing over what to get, if I really need it, and whether I could get a better deal somewhere else, that's all been set aside for this month. I am hoping I will emerge with a better understanding of myself and my relationship to things that I could or do in fact own. I am hoping that I will feel the richness of knowing that I do indeed have enough.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Whatever It Takes

My Flash Gordon Lunchbox! One of many lunch supplies left over from when the girls were little. 

I seek variety and am easily bored when it comes to eating the same thing several days in a row. Knowing this I’ve had to trick myself into eating the same thing over the course of the week. Here are my quick tips on how to USE IT UP when it comes to food.

  1. Paraphernalia – I’m talking about lunchboxes, cloth napkins, itty-bitty salt shakers, straws, cool little containers and other such things that make having lunch (even leftovers) fun! I have a drawer full of the stuff and use it all! I could go crazy and buy some fun bento boxes or tiffins but I have enough and will enjoy what I’ve got!
  2. Clean and Pack - As I clean up after dinner I pack one or more lunches for the days that follow. This saves me having to pack lunch every evening or morning and from storing leftovers in containers to just later take them out later to pack it as a lunch. In my fridge are several packed lunch bags with everything  including a snack, drink and main lunch. I like the surprise factor of picking a bag and not really remembering what was in there. My need for variety is assisted by my terrible short term memory.
  3. Plan meals with leftovers and lunches in mind. This means that I may roast a chicken on Monday evening, have chicken salad for lunch Tuesday and then chicken enchiladas for dinner on Wednesday. There might be enough chicken salad to make a sandwich Tuesday and a little left for a snack with crackers on Thursday. I’m eating chicken day after day but it doesn’t feel like it.
  4. Small portions--having a bunch of little portions keeps leftovers interesting to me. This means that I need to keep on hand a bunch of snack items such as fruit, nuts, cheese, rolled up lunch meat. So a typical lunch may be one small portion of a leftover, a few blocks of cheese, a tangerine and a few graham crackers. 
  5. Freeze – yeah, I know it’s obvious but freezing meal sized portions makes it feel like variety when I eat it a few weeks later. Since I travel a lot for work it’s really important to have some dinners readily available for when I come in from out of town and am low on groceries.
  6. Soups, casseroles and quiches are wonderful strategies for transforming leftovers into totally different meals. I do this especially with roasted meats and vegetables, but also with mashed potatoes (making shepherd’s pie or croquettes) – kind of a repeat of #3 but worth a mention.
My goal is to buy the food I need and eat all the food I buy - while staying healthy and not overeating!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Making My Own Stuff

My home made granola! (recipe)

There's something satisfying and self sufficient about making things instead of buying them over and over. And, it comes in very handy during Frugal February! For the past year or so I've been making my own granola and yogurt. I also recently started making flavored syrups for the soda machine (ginger orange is my favorite so far, followed by the basil flavor). As I run out of cleaning supplies I've been trying to find simple, home made replacements. That has led me to making citrus vinegar cleaning spray, make up remover, dishwasher soap, foaming soap (a great success!), stain remover, "windex", and this weekend I finally got to make laundry detergent which I'm really excited about! So far everything has worked really well, except for the dishwasher soap, I'll try another recipe once I use this one up. Other things I'm going to try my hand at are fabric softner/dryer sheets, shampoo, and deodorant (yep, I'm going there). What pleases me the most is how much I've reduced the amount of packaging I bring into my life. Oh, and it's pretty frugal - the laundry soap ends up costing about $2.00 for 140 loads!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Use it Up

my daily reminder, on the inside of my bathroom cabinet

When I was planning my move from a 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment I knew I would have to scale down. I thought I had been careful and selected just what I needed to live my new life alone. Now that I've been in my new space for a year I realize that I still have too much, I have things that I don't use, that I am waiting for the right time to use, that I need to find so I can use, that I need to fix before I can use, or that I forgot that I had so I bought another one to use. So, live it up and Use it Up is my theme for this year.

My challenge for February is that I'm not purchasing anything that isn't gasoline or food. Friday I drove from Austin to Dallas and thanks to my challenge I realized that I make little impulsive purchases when I'm on the road. Mostly I buy snacks and drinks whenever I fill up with gas. I also like to buy postcards sometimes, and little trinkets from travels. Of course the drive from Austin isn't exactly "travelling" so that wasn't too hard to give up, and since it was Day 1 of the challenge I wasn't tempted to buy any snacks or such. Not that I had thought ahead, but I did happen to have a bag of deliciously sweet tangerines from a roadside stand in the Rio Grande Valley.

Saturday was my friend Libba's 60th birthday and I made her a necklace with 60 different beads - I had the chance to USE UP 60 different beads AND one of the many many cards I have stashed away. I have so many it would take years to give them all away, I better get to writing! And, I had my first slip up - I purchased a $3 car wash. I really didn't feel like I was cheating because my car was filthy from the road trip to Corpus/McAllen/Austin. Since I'm purchasing household cleaning products, if I need them, I kind of see my car as an extension of my household and it needed cleaning badly. 

Then today I went to the grocery store and bought enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner all week. I have a standing breakfast meeting with my two staff members on Wednesday morning. Instead of eating out, I'll be inviting them to eat breakfast with me at my place. Not sure if that will exactly be a cost savings for me, but it will be a nice change of pace.

The World's Slowest Blog Returns

Ok, so I was back for about a minute in 2011 and then lost the thread of this blog again. In my defense, a lot has happened offline in the last few years. When I came back to the blog it was poignant to see the last entry was about my parents 50th wedding anniversary. In the two years since their anniversary I got divorced, moved to Denton, Dad got cancer, and sadly died almost exactly one year after his diagnosis. Any one of those could bring a person to a place of introspection - all of them together have taken me through many emotions and moments of deep reflection.

In this spirit of reflection I've undertaken my first ever new year's resolution. I've never made resolutions, not that I didn't believe in them, just never found one that really caught my attention. Mostly I've always hated unfinished projects, and resolutions just seemed like unfinished projects in the making. But I do love me some reflection, and have always wanted to find an inspiring resolution that would challenge me. I've long admired my friend David for setting a theme for himself each year. When I read the Happiness Project books I liked how she detailed her intentions in monthly challenges to herself.

Over the holidays I thought about intentions, inspirations and motivational words that I'd like to surround myself with. I've always loved quotes, poems, and, inspirational writings and thought it would be fun to have little notes tucked around my apartment that could remind me of what I feel is important in life. The first one that came to mind was "Use it Up" - which I wrote on a slip of paper and put on the inside of the cabinet door. After seeing it every morning for a week I realized it was the perfect resolution / theme for the year.

I took the month of January to really think things through and figure out my monthly challenges. The more I thought about it the more I felt excited about the possibilities, and the more this theme really settled in. I'm so glad to truly get started now in February with the first monthly challenge. It's "Frugal February" - yay for the shortest month of the year :) where I will be spending money only on gas and groceries (well, other necessities such as toilet paper and rent too).