Year 1: How a year of more mindful spending changed my life.
While I've been on a short sabbatical of sorts, the one year anniversary of Mindfully Spent quietly slipped by in September without a mention. While I may have missed the opportunity for a raucous blog birthday party, I did spent some time in contemplation over how the year has changed me and our family finances. There was plenty to celebrate! For instance:
Debt repaid: $16,916!
Net worth increased by $60,603!
Despite the many financial wins that we're celebrating, the biggest gains have nothing to do with money.
Net worth confessions.
Our net worth is still negative. The housing bubble and student loan debt are real life things and they definitely impacted us. That said, improving our net worth by about $60,000 is something I am celebrating in a huge way. Here's why:
Our negative net worth was a scary and daunting number when I started this challenge.
It didn't seem feasible to crawl out from under the housing market crash or our existing debt to make a notable difference. Now, I feel like that mindset was limiting and, quite honestly, just plain wrong. I had no idea that we could make this kind of change in our net worth in just one year, and it has reframed my thinking on what is possible. I feel confident that time will allow us to move toward a positive (and growing!) net worth, even while we continue to put more focus on life balance and charitable donations.
Shopping doesn't have to be a habit.
Prior to changing how I spent my money, I would often buy a coffee drink or go shopping for clothes or home goods when I was feeling less than great about life. Unnecessary shopping and consuming calories and caffeine are probably two of the worst ways to deal with worry and discomfort, but that didn't mean much to me a year ago. My fears/worries/anxieties are never truly related to needing new couch pillows or something different to wear. Home goods and clothes were things I fixated on when I was feeling discontent with my life/body/home. In the last 12 months, I drastically reduced my shopping on home goods and clothes, giving myself time to focus on things that fulfill my real needs: family, friendship, health, meaningful work, community, creativity, playing, cozy, and connectedness.
The only home products I can recall purchasing in the first year of Mindfully Spent were a pepper grinder, microfiber cloths to replace our paper towels, a steamer (because tamales!), a bedspread, a vacuum, a shower curtain, and an almost free set of Pyrex storage bowls with lids (yay, coupons and sales!). What is important to me about some of these purchases, is that they were a part of a bigger shift in how we live. We began to move away from disposable items and started thinking about ways we can decrease the amount of stuff our household sends to a landfill. When I felt a need to have a different look/feel in our home, I set aside time to clean, organize, and rearrange what we already had to create a deeper sense of cozy.
As far as home improvements, I used paint that we already had to freshen up some of our interior spaces. We also completed some minor home repairs (including a shed roof replacement and a new section of gutter) using our new home repair savings.
CLOTHES & ACCESSORIES.
Altogether, I purchased 15 items from my clothing budget in the last 12 months. These items did exceed my annual $400 clothing budget a bit, but I don't regret any of them. Most purchases were to replace something that had worn out or no longer fit quite right:
- A replacement strap for my wallet
- A replacement work bag
- Ballet flats (aka, winter work shoes)
- Two pairs of shorts
- Two pairs of tights
- One button-down shirt
- Black Leggings
- Summer work shoes in black and tan
- One pair of Jeans
- One pair of socks
- Hiking pants
- One pair of casual shoes
Clothing exchanges, clothes shared among friends, and a little repair work here and there helped add some variety while keeping unnecessary purchases down. Confession: This list does not include a few additional items I purchased but wisely returned.
Everyday Expenses are no longer adding up...
I used to waste about $100 each month on parking. My typical cost now: Zero dollars and zero cents. I had one unexpected $2 charge for parking in the last two months. As an added benefit, I now get about 1,600 steps in exercise on work days.
My monthly coffee purchases averaged more than $131 when this journey began. Now? Soy lattes are still one of my great pleasures, but my coffee costs generally run around $50 per month. After admittedly going overboard in August, my two month average on coffee purchases at the one year mark was $63.13.
Monthly bills reduced
When we began doing a better job of tracking our expenses, some household costs went up to more accurately reflect their true impact on our budget. Despite these increases, we were able to reduce our monthly bills by $865 per month over the last year. This effort required a mountain of paperwork, some renegotiation, persistence, and a whole lotta debt repayment. This number would have been even lower, but we missed our goal on lowering our grocery costs.
We anticipate that we will be able to lower these costs further in 2018. I also anticipate that I will be negotiating with our internet service provider again to lower our monthly rate. #bringit
For those who like to dig deep into financial details, we set aside money for holiday spending, pet expenses, minor medical costs, and groceries in our monthly bills. Our monthly bills don't include our monthly spending money, entertainment, hobbies, savings, charitable contributions, and the extra funds we voluntarily dedicate to debt repayment. We hope to continue increasing our charitable contributions.
Cash money on the rise.
If we cut our monthly costs but blew the extra money on frivolous things, we wouldn't be much better off. Luckily, that's not what we did. Instead, we've got our money working hard to take care of the priorities we've identified... and I found a couple ways to earn a little extra too!
While I put at least as much value on my time as I do my money, there were two opportunities to earn a little extra money that I didn't want to pass up: 1. A garage sale raked in some extra cash while helping us declutter, and 2. I took on a side hustle writing quarterly features for a local company's blog. Total extra earned: $994.
PAYING IN CASH.
We escaped all of our consumer debt over this last year, and we have no plans to return. In order to stay on track for this goal, we have to have cash saved for major expenses, such as house repairs, car repairs, new cell phones, replacement vehicles, travel, vacation, charitable giving, and our teenager graduating high school in 2019. These costs add up quick! The home repairs, cell phone, and car savings alone are $535 per month.
The level we're saving at won't provide for much of a car when the time comes to replace a vehicle, but the peace of mind of being able to fix our washing machine or replace a refrigerator feels awfully good. What feels even better? Getting to slip away for a little weekend travel now and again. We're hopeful that 2018 might even allow us to take a modest destination vacation as a family.
SAVE CASH FOR LATER.
Being more mindful with our money means thinking about the future. In 2017, we began saving for our first-ever retirement contributions that were not part of an employer plan. Just after Mindfully Spent's one year anniversary, we met our goal of saving $4,000 to open personal retirement accounts before year end. We hope to continue making modest monthly deposits in 2018, along with increasing the payroll contributions that my husband is making through a new employer.
The real gains have little to do with net worth.
The greatest benefit over this last year has been the change in my perspective. First and foremost, I have become better at accepting things as they are. What's even better is when I can move beyond accepting and truly appreciate things as they are. My body is able. Our home is safe and warm. We were able to get my son some new school clothes. Maybe our house isn't real estate market perfect, but as the rainy season rolls in, our newly repaired shingles and gutters will be holding back damage from the elements this year.
Life gives each of us the opportunity to make choices about what is important to us as individuals, and I am feeling more much comfortable and more confident doing just that. I do not need a magazine worthy home to open my door to friends. I do not need my car to be shiny and new to get to my job or to the places where I like to hike. I do not need to look like a model to be loved, support a friend, or enjoy time with my family.
As regular readers know, coming to greater peace with my money, my choices, and my life over this last year has helped me start letting go of some pretty big worries. I used to spend too much of my time preoccupied by thinking of the judgements of others or how we would pay for an unexpected expense. These worries kept me focused on scarcity and they prevented me from enjoying what I did have. They were a frivolous waste of my energy, my wellbeing, and my time.
While I always intellectually valued many things more than material things or the appearance of wealth/beauty, it took a year of focus to begin realizing how much I was being influenced by societal pressure and expectations around these things. I know these pressures will reappear in from time to time, but I also know more now about the discomfort I feel when I make decisions or judge myself based on outside influences instead of my own gut values.
In the year to come, I will be focusing on far more than financial goals. I hope to double down on being a part of the community where I live, making a difference in the community where I work, exploring the world with curiosity and enjoyment, supporting my health, and deepening my connections to family and friends. I'm going to keep reading things that challenge me to grow and understand the world from the perspective of others. These are the ways I can be sure that my days are mindfully spent.
A belated thank you for a year of reading, providing support, and weighing in. It is appreciated more than you know. Please feel free to reach out and share a bit of the journey you're currently on. <3