January Buy Nothing Progress Report

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We are now almost a week into January so I thought I’d post a progress report on our Buy Nothing Month.

Saying you are going to buy nothing and actually buying nothing are two very different things. There are so many things that are just beyond our control that we need to spend money on. Then there are those things that we really want to spend money on. Finally, there is everything else that we normally spend money on. Here is how we have handled each area:

First, the things we weren’t planning on: We knew we were going to spend money on groceries and we have. A lot. But, hopefully we won’t have to do much more grocery shopping for the rest of the month. We bought a tank of gas — again something we knew we were going to need and had allowed ourselves. An unplanned expense was the doctor. I had forgotten that I had an appointment today so ended up with a $20 copay. NBD but we weren’t expecting it.

Now for what I think of as the hardest part: The things that we really want to spend money on. One of my dearest friends is having a birthday celebration this month and invited us all out to celebrate at her favorite Mexican restaurant. This is the most generous friend, and I love her dearly. Telling her that I wasn’t going to be able to make it was by far the hardest part of this whole experiment. I’ll make it up to her next month, but in terms of sustainability, I might need to make an exception for things like this in the future.

Another challenge is eating at our old community. I love connecting with the people there and the meals are super cheap (we’re talking $4 for adults and $2 for kids). I mean, honestly, my meals at home aren’t usually that cheap, however, this month I’ve had to put those visits on hold (although, a friend of mine is helping me to figure a way around this by trading my meals for babysitting and photos).

The surprisingly easy part: the things we normally spend money on. We have not spent a single dollar on food out, clothes, stuff for the house, etc… and HAVE NOT EVEN MISSED IT. When I know we are not going to eat out, meals must be cooked at home. When we have time together, we don’t go shopping or even driving. We walk to the library or just around the neighborhood. So far, buying nothing has really simplified life and enriched it.

How to Retire Early: Buy Nothing Months

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How to Retire Early: Buy Nothing Months

All the money that will be in my wallet at the end of the month

I have absolutely no desire to live in a feeling a deprivation. My goal is find the joy in what I have instead of seeking out more of what I don’t need.

One way that I achieve this goal is by giving myself challenges. Can I save an extra $100 this week? Can I eat at home for an entire week? Can I buy all my clothes for a month at a thrift shop? By challenging myself to see what I can save rather than focusing on what I can’t have, I find that n0t only am I excited to see my bank account number at the end of the month, but I enjoy the things that I do have so much more.

I am about to begin my biggest challenge ever: BUY NOTHING MONTH. That’s right. For an entire month, our family has committed to buy nothing…except for groceries…because we need to live…and gas for the car since I’m pretty sure that Ilya would be none too pleased if I left her at school. But, other than groceries and gas, we will find joy in what we already have. Only eating at home. Figuring out how to fix something if it breaks rather than buy a new thing. Enjoying the clothes we already have. etc.

I’m actually really excited about this challenge. December was not a great month for us. The gift giving economy of the holidays is really stressful for me. People end up spending a lot of money on useless crap that ultimately ends up at the landfill (this might be a bit of an exaggeration you get the idea). I’m always unsure if I should get someone a gift or not – because you don’t want to end up in a situation where you didn’t bring a gift when they brought you a gift or vise versa. I would so much rather eliminate all gifts and just enjoy spending time together sledding or cooking a delicious meal.

In addition to gifts, December was the month when we spent a ton of money on repairs and upgrades to our house. Some of that money will be made back (like the low flow toilet to replace our 7 gallon per flush original one – hello lower water bill), but most of it was repair – pipe leak, furnace repair. Blah. So, I am ready for January.

Buy nothing month is really not about deprivation, but a challenge to see how much we can save. We have a very secret (lofty) goal of paying off our mortgage by the end of the year, but there is no way that we can reach that goal if we continue the habits of spending money on stuff we don’t really need.

For example, I LOVE shopping at the thrift store. It almost feels like free stuff the prices are so cheap, and I get so much joy from finding a good deal on something amazing that I didn’t even know I needed. The problem is that I actually don’t need it. When I buy this amazing thing that I don’t need (no matter how cheap it is), I not only don’t have that money anymore, but now I have more stuff in my house cluttering it up. I want to simplify. Less stuff. More experiences.

That is what January is all about: less stuff – more experiences. Wish me luck!

How To Retire Early: Cook At Home

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I have a confession to make: for the first part of this year (let’s say January through October) my family ate our meals out 90% of the time. The food that I could make at home was boring and tasteless compared to the explosion of flavor that graced my plate at the restaurants. And I love food. A lot. I tried to recreate the meals that I love but they never worked out as well as what I could simply buy.

I knew I was eating out too much but I had no idea how to change this behavior. Because I wasn’t cooking at home, my skills atrophied and I swear that I got worse at it.

All that changed when I got invited to try Hello Fresh. I swear, this is not an add for Hello Fresh. I’m not getting anything by linking to them. I’m just explaining how I managed to escape the trap of eating out.

Hello Fresh is one of those meal in a box delivery systems (overpriced but convenient with everything you need so I did end up saving money on both eating out and grocery shopping). I was skeptical since everything I cooked tasted like mush, but I followed their directions and was amazed by the way a few herbs and spices could make an ordinary dish taste extraordinary.

Don’t get me wrong. I had used herbs and spices in my own cooking previously but I often used old dried herbs and out of date spices. I was amazed by how much flavor fresh herbs and spices produced. Not only that — but I LOVED the meals. Each one was different and flavorful.

I used Hello Fresh for about two months and steadily ate out less and less during that time when “the switch” happened. I turned into one of those snobby food people. Their bulk ingredients were no longer satisfactory. I wanted only fresh organic vegetables to go in my cooking.

So, armed with their recipes (which they kindly let you keep), I cancelled their service and began to make my own meals. I used herbs from my garden and veggies from the farmers market, and I became addicted — not only to the flavor in the food but to the act of preparing a meal for my family.

I would pour myself a glass of wine and listen to Billie Holiday on the radio while I created a meal that would nurture those I loved most. Dinner became a sacred time in our home. A time to connect and talk about the day away from bustle of a busy restaurant. A time to enjoy the simple flavors of the food and appreciate each other.

Dinner became more than just a inconvenience to feed my hunger. It became an integral part of my life. I love to create meals to feed my friends and chat with them while the flavors of the food cook together on the stove. I love the time it takes to create the meal and the love that is my table when it is ready.

By giving up restaurants, I not only saved hundreds of dollars a month on eating out but I found a connection and joy with my family that I didn’t have before.

Little Family Big Dreams

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I started this blog as a personal journey to document my life and, continuing in that vein, I’m excited about the direction my life is headed.

First a little back story: Over the past several years, my family did what most families do when they get to a place where they are comfortable with money. We spent it. A lot. We never went into debt and prided ourselves on that fact but we didn’t really save it either. We just didn’t worry about it. I get it — we are lucky. I know. But to be fair, we did work very hard to get to that place in life…and that was the trouble. Working. Because no matter how much we love our jobs (well, I love my job — Adam — my hubby — tolerates his) we are still working and not spending our time doing the things that we want to do.

I want to be at a place where I can give photography as a gift to those whose lives would be enriched by it. New mothers, animal shelters, causes I believe in…etc… and Adam wants to draw. To be an artist and create graphic novels. We also want to travel and spend time together with our little Alice while she is still little. We want to cook together and live abroad and explore the rain forests and create. everything.

To reach these goals we need to be at a place where we don’t have to work to make money. Retirement.

I started reading everything I could about retiring early, and believe it or not, it is surprisingly simple to do (notice I didn’t say easy). To retire early, you simply need to save as much money as you can, invest that money and live off of the interest.

For those of you who like lists (like yours truly), here are some steps to retire early:

1) calculate your monthly expenses (don’t forget to factor in big expenses like car repair and holidays — and spread that money out over the year)

2) Take that number and multiple it by 25 — this number is the amount of dollars you need invested in order to retire and just live off of a safe withdraw rate of 4%

3) Start saving for your goal (the number you came up with in step 2)

Simple, right? Simple but not easy.

If I had done the exercise two months ago, that number in step two would have been enormous and I could as soon as flown to the moon as saved that up. So, I made some choices. We were spending A LOT of money on eating out. Tons. I made it a goal to only eat at home and like magic that big number shrunk (plus, I now had extra monthly income that I would have spent eating out to save towards that big number).

It became a game: what things could I cut from my life and still be happy? The answer was surprising. Almost everything. Once I stopped spending money on new clothes and shoes and coffee out, I found that I started to appreciate all the things that I did have so much more.

* The smell of grinding our own coffee grounds in the morning and pouring over the frothy sweet milk

* The music filling my house

* The way my puppy rests her head on my lap while I am reading a book as the rain hits the window

I could go on and on.

I started this change so that we could retire earlier thinking that it would be hard to deprive myself of the things that I loved so much (eating at fancy restaurants, getting a latte whenever I felt like it, shopping) but what I found was that life became immensely more enjoyable once I cut those things out.

You’re thinking I’m crazy, right? But here are a couple examples:

For my birthday dinner, instead of going out to eat sushi and spending around $100, my husband and I bought some fish and made our own sushi rolls at home complete with saki (for about $30). The food was amazing and plentiful. We had a blast making the rolls together and every bite was melt in your mouth delicious.

I joined a group called “buy nothing west seattle” and kept a close eye on it throughout December. It didn’t take long before someone offered a stuffed moose. I knew that my kid would love it so I picked it up. I was thrilled when I realized that it was no ordinary stuffed moose. It was a KID-SIZED stuffed moose. My daughter absolutely LOVED it. She sleeps with it and drags in around everywhere even though it is bigger than she is! Plus, this stuffed moose is getting a new round of love where he might have ended up in a landfill. Total cost of the best holiday present ever? $0

My goal is not to live in deprivation but to treasure what I have and to get what I want in a more meaningful way.

Currently, we are saving anywhere between 40% and 60% of our take home pay (this does not include the 401K that we contribute to — so really those numbers are about 5% higher).

I’ll go into more detail about how we will reach our Big Number goal later but I feel like this post is already too long 🙂