frugality FEELS
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Shopping Smart

“It’s about developing strategies to limit your purchases to things you really like, so that your bank account will be happier, AND you’ll wind up with things you’ll be satisfied with for years to come.”

In a beautiful blend of my favorite things to think about, Apartment Therapy wrote this awesome post about not buying everything so you can enjoy the things you have and buy the things you actually want/need. Craftiness + frugality. Love it.

Pair with: Becoming Minimalist’s post about the peacefulness and liberation that comes with learning to recognize “enough.”

And to tie this all together with a strand of my own crazytwine, I’m trying to learn the physicality of “enough”: of being buff enough, eating healthy enough, being thin enough/fit enough; of lifting enough weights and doing enough cardio. Of getting enough sleep and sun. Of following all the rules “right” enough. But that’s a work in progress.

perfect microwave eggs in two minutes

On Microwaving Eggs

Everyone in my office seems fascinated when I crack some raw eggs into a bowl and whip up some delicious, fluffy professional-looking scrambled eggs in two minutes flat. Hard-boiled (or hard-baked) eggs are a delicious protein-dense snack, but making and then peeling them can be such a pain in the ass, and who has time to make breakfast in the morning?

Breakfast or 4 p.m. treat, microwaved eggs are pretty much perfect either way, and you can add some salt, pepper, cheese …

I almost prefer them to real homemade scrambled eggs, which I somehow manage to bungle every time.

my bike

Tri the Swamp Rabbit: Race Report

I am way too self-conscious to take a bunch of photos during race morning. I’m typically gearing up mentally for the struggle that is tri, and triathlon morning is always intimidating. There is good money in triathlons. We’re talking bikes that cost $8K-$10K on average. And thin, built, lean women to accompany them. Side note: Why is it that triathlons are much more competitive in the 35-55 age range? For one, there are more people in those age brackets, and secondly, they are SO FAST. It kills me. I think it’s because they’ve had years of training and experience, and they just have so much power, which I just can’t match.

My bike, on the other hand, cost $500 from the used bike store, and we thought that was kind of expensive. It’s a nice bike — a 2008 Specialized Dolce edition (bonus: it’s yellow).

yellow 2008 Specialized Dolce women's road bike triathlon Tri-Sumter Sumter SC

Creight & I & the bikes after our first tri in October 2013 (TriSumter in Sumter, SC)

I LOVE my bike — it’s got a decent component group, even a few years out — but I’m too scared pussy to overcome the learning curve that accompanies clipless pedals, and too cheap frugal for aero bars or a trip computer. Basically my bike SCREAMS amateur, which is fine. It’s what I am.

But I still came in second on the bike leg during my age group!

My results:

  • Swim (250m) | 5:22 | age group rank: 4
  • Transition 1 | 1:40 | age group rank: 3
  • Bike (16.2 miles from Furman U through Traveler’s Rest downtown and back) | 1:02:30 | age group rank: 2
  • Transition 2 | 0:28 | age group rank: 1
  • Run (5K loop through Furman’s campus, around Swan Lake, down the Swamp Rabbit and back) | 33:31 | age group rank: 5
  • Overall | 1:43:28 | age group rank: 4 of 7

This is a better showing than Clemson, when I finished last in my age group (and made a bunch of rookie mistakes). Here, I thought I did pretty well and finished dead middle of the pack despite a truly awful tired run. Overall, not too shabby.

Creighton’s results:

  • Swim | 5:28 | age group rank: 6
  • Transition 1 | 1:52 | age group rank: 6
  • Bike | 59:43 | age group rank: 4
  • Transition 2 | 1:16 | age group rank: 6
  • Run | 29:46 | age group rank: 4
  • Overall | 1:38:03 | age group rank: 4 of 6

Next up: The Luray International Triathlon, in about four weeks. It’s our first international, and I am scared shitless. Maybe afterward I’ll write a post about overcoming doubt and mental roadblocks.

For the obligatory post-race selfie, I will direct you to Instagram.

You Need a Budget logo, YNAB logo, budgeting

On the Life-Changing Properties of YNAB

True story: There was a time when Creighton and I saved every single receipt and wrote down every single transaction so we could spend an hour+ each Sunday plugging them in to an Excel spreadsheet that he built. This was a pain in the ass. Budgeting is a pain in the ass. you need a budget, budget, piggy banks, budgeting solutions, best budgeting program, YNAB Here’s a list of bland “good reasons to budget”:

  • Save money.
  • Track/curb your spending.
  • Make every dollar count/give every dollar a job.
  • Feel guilty about what you are spending.
  • Get into fights with your family members about their spending.

The first three are things personal finance experts like Dave Ramsey will say over and over, and yet I found that I didn’t know why it was important until we started doing it. We all know WHY to save money. We often know how to save money. But the reality is more complicated. You look at your bank account, and you are like, “Oh, I have $XXX to spend; I’ll just buy this dress.” But that’s conducive to living paycheck-to-paycheck, which also sucks. Budgeting, like all things, only sucks until you make it part of you. Queue YNAB.

Creighton once decided he wanted to buy an old beat-up Nissan Z-car so he could fix it up and race it AutoCross (he didn’t). The guy who was selling it mentioned this program called You Need A Budget. Creighton was into saving philosophies at this point in time, which was the beginning of his interest in Financial Independence. During his research, he borrowed all of the YNAB philosophies and used some screenshots to build his own Excel version because we were too cheap frugal to spend the $60 on the real version.

The YNAB “Rules”

  1. Give every dollar a job.
  2. Save for a rainy day.
  3. Roll with the punches.
  4. Live on last month’s income.

After nearly a year of using the Excel spreadsheet, which was clunky and got huge very quickly, we agreed to try out the YNAB 34-day trial. Needless to say, we spent the $60 and have the full version now. I encourage EVERYONE even remotely interested in budgeting, saving money, financial freedom, etc. to TRY THE TRIAL.

My friend over at My Cash House once told me they didn’t want to be restricted by a budget, but just wanted to save as much as possible. I think that’s a downright noble goal, and if you can make it work for you, then you should do that. It’s certainly the best philosophy. Buy only what you need, and save the rest. But I’m, like I said yesterday, incapable of non-consumption. I still like things and clothes, as much as I sometimes wish I didn’t.

jcrew factory charlie sweater

My new J.Crew Factory sweater — LOVE

The budget puts a sort of structure in place. It creates “envelopes” into which you can earmark your money (a beloved method of aforementioned Dave Ramsey). It provides discipline as well as transparency. It has some cool reporting features for number-crunchers and nerds, and at least the graphs are colorful.

Other things I love about YNAB:

  • They have an app that effortlessly/seamlessly enables you to update and check your budget on-the-fly.
  • They are non-judgmental. People are on different levels, and shit happens, so set up your goals, save what you can and adjust as needed.
  • They make me feel responsible and empowered, but not guilty.

Dave Ramsey and the like feel too preachy for me, and I don’t want to find myself constantly beating myself up over how much we are saving. YNAB doesn’t make me feel like that. It’s validating instead of soul-crushing.

Naturally, I am always looking for ways to save more, and Creighton and I revisit our YNAB set-up often to ensure it doesn’t grow stagnant or lazy. But it has been a real game-changer for us during our budgeting journey.

 

Postmortem: The Excel version of our budget will always have a place in our hearts, and we shared it with many friends, but it was so clunky and took forever to use. We grew to hate the hideous receipt box that gathered dust on our desk. 

find your level

It’s The Climb

I wouldn’t say we are “non-consumers;” we are “low-consumers.”

I strive to consume less in my day-to-day life, but I still like clothes, being crafty, home decor, going on vacation, convenience, etc.

We have to find the “level” that works for us. There will always be someone who is more extreme — who can slash more from their budget, who can save more, who needs less and wants less. Additionally, there will always be perfectly happy families in Cambodia living on less than $1 a day. There will always be stories of people who are less fortunate. We were born into privilege, and our dilemma is to find a way to both appreciate that privilege and to live beyond it.

It’s impossible to go through life measuring yourself against others and still be happy. We’ve normalized what the cost of the American Dream is; we’ve put a definitive price tag on it.

So, Creighton and I have tried to cut back, but I end up swinging the other way on the pendulum. I’m not thin enough. I’m not saving enough. I’m not “non-consuming” enough. I’m not doing enough to push myself to the next level.

The point, also, is (of course) a degree of self-betterment, but that too can get masturbatory very quickly.

It can make you feel very trapped — on the one hand, you don’t want to aggrandize your journey toward some sort of enlightenment, but you aren’t satisfied with what seems to be the status quo.

Creighton and I talk all the time about how people are on different “levels” for all things, all journeys (weight loss, spirituality, frugality, happiness, racquetball skill, athleticism, productivity). These levels are like a funnel or spiral staircase. The farther up on the level you are, the more you can see what other people — especially lower than your level — are doing (wrong), but it’s harder to see up. On the Financial Independence journey, we are somewhere in the upper middle tier happy. Creighton made a really interesting point when discussing this blog post that the whole idea of the spiral staircase analogy is that you can’t see up as easily as you can see down. You don’t know how far you have to go to the proverbial top; sometimes you can get a glimpse at what other people up there are doing, but for the most part, you only know how far you personally have come. I think that’s apt and kind of beautiful. We have got a lot figured out and are doing a lot “right,” but we aren’t in the top 3 percent of savers, eating only rice for nourishment and retiring at age 27. We are doing what is right for us; we have a plan that works for us, fulfills us and satisfies us.

Bottom line: Find your level, try to continue climbing that ladder, but don’t kill yourself over it. It’s good to recognize and appreciate where we are, where we are going, or to stop striving and be happy with wherever we are in the process.

No matter what level you are on in your journeys, enjoy the view.