Thursday, February 27, 2020

No-Spend Month Activities

In my last post, I detailed some of my plans for making March my first No-Spend Month with my husband. We had an expensive year in 2019, primarily because we took the leap from renting an apartment to buying a house. We still paid debts off as we saved money for a down payment. Some of our debts are still around, albeit reduced, but we want to eliminate them all the same. That's where a no-spend month comes in. My previous post details the discretionary spending we're cutting out for March, so I wanted to use this post to list some of the free activities we'll be taking advantage of throughout the month.

Home Improvement: No house we saw was 100% perfect for us, but the one we chose is getting close. There are no shortage of projects we'll be doing with the materials and tools we already have on-hand.
  • Painting our guest bathroom with leftover paint colors from other rooms
    (going for light grey walls and funky turquoise cabinetry!)
  • Organizing my craft room
  • Touching up paint in a couple of rooms
  • Organizing the utility/laundry room in the basement
  • Organizing and setting up work spaces in the garage
  • Deep clean each room one by one
Leisure: Although home improvement is immense fun for me, the husband wanted to have a long list of "actually fun" things to do. I do my best to get resourceful when I know we're trying not to spend money, so I came up with a few things as well.

  • Play Stardew Valley
  • Learn any board game we bought but haven't played yet
  • Have a party with what we have on-hand
  • See a free-to-us concert from winning tickets at work
  • Play "Chopped" with our pantry, fridge, and freezer 
  • Bake cakes and cookies together
  • Walk around the lake and play Pokemon Go, weather permitting
  • Game night with friends
  • Tea and coffee party with friends
  • Write music together
  • Write (code for him, blogging for me)
  • Make more time to read
  • Go to free community events at the creative center
I do have one "cheat" day for the month, which is to take a short trip to stay with a friend and see a concert together. It'll cost about a tank of gas and $25 for the show ticket, but I plan to not spend money out of my bank account by selling a few pieces of furniture in local swap groups. It's a show I've planned to see since January, and it was one thing I wasn't willing to sacrifice for the no-spend month. Planning is really the key, and although it might sound like yet another justification to cheat I think it's also important to leave some leeway in any plan. When we go too hard on ourselves, we're destined to fail. So if you have a no-spend month... I'd say it's okay to throw in a little cheat for your sanity and happiness.

Here's to planning a successful no-spend month for March 2020!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Planning a No-Spend Month

One major benefit to minimalism is that it helps break bad spending habits. Financial budgeting seems to coincide with or closely follow the switch to a minimalist lifestyle. A particularly interesting budgeting trend in recent years has been to challenge oneself to no-spend weeks, no-spend months, or even no-spend years.

The concept is fairly simple. For the duration of the "no-spend" challenge, participants can only spend money on basic necessities like utilities, groceries, and other regular bills like credit card or loan payments. Expenditures like ordering takeout, dining out, and shopping for clothes are some examples of things you'd bar yourself from spending money on during the no-spend period.

I have challenged my husband to join me in a no-spend month for March 2020. Here are the usual "fun money" categories that we won't be spending money on for a month:
  • Beverages including loose leaf tea, soda, alcohol, bottled mineral water. My husband doesn't consume alcohol, and I want to downsize my bar. I'll be drinking only what I have on-hand. We have plenty of loose leaf tea already, so even the most tempting new additions to our tea bar will have to wait a month (if they're still enticing after a month of thinking on it).
  • Dining out including takeout. This is a fairly major category, as we're used to going out once every week or two for a fancy dinner. Instead, we'll make dinner at home every night.
  • Game subscriptions/transactions. We have plenty of board games as well as video games that are free to play. Although game subscriptions and games with paid items don't cost us much month-over-month, we've just been gravitating more toward board games lately anyway.
  • Movie rentals. We'll be keeping our streaming subscriptions active because we already track them in our monthly budget sheets, but we won't be spending extra money on renting movies that cost extra on top of the subscription fees. 
  • Weekend shopping trips. Normally when the weather is decent, we'll drive an hour to a bigger city and go shopping. We analyzed our purchases and realized too many of them fell into the impulse/useless/expensive consumable categories. This will probably be the biggest point of savings in our challenge.
A no-spend month might feel like a pointless challenge if there is no end goal for the money saved during the month. So where will the money we won't be spending in March go? Here are a few plans we have for that cash:

  • Get rid of my credit card debt
  • Make a larger payment on the husband's car
  • Start investing again
  • Put away into savings for our kitchen renovation
  • Put away into personal savings for emergency funds
Both the husband and I are looking forward to our no-spend month. If it goes well, we intend to make every other month or so a no-spend month just to see how quickly we can tackle any remaining debts and reach our savings goals... and hopefully these plans inspire others to try no-spend challenges as well!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Decluttering with Limited Time and Energy

One of my goals with this blog is to make a more minimalist lifestyle accessible to other folks like me who work full-time and don't have unlimited stores of time or energy to declutter. Decluttering, while it does take a lot of time and effort to complete, generally has such a tremendous physical and mental payoff that it's worth doing.

So how does one get started decluttering with limited time and energy? Here are tips that have proven to be the most useful to me:
  • Disengage emotionally from clutter objects. This is hard at first but gets easier. We've probably all had at least a few garments in the closet that we were saving in case we lost/gained weight, or a stack of birthday cards from years gone by. Practice this emotional disengagement by asking the item "Why are you here when I can't use you?" It may seem harsh compared to the generally upbeat "Thank you for serving me in the past" connection that other methods of minimalism/decluttering have, but sometimes when you feel like there's no time or energy to tackle clutter, emotionally disengaging can be useful. 
  • Set a timer. This is particularly useful if you feel like you have limited time. Setting a timer for 10 minutes can have a big impact if you start the timer with sharp focus. To me personally, 5 minutes never feels like enough, but 10-20 minutes is more than enough time to make a dent in any pile of clutter. Just don't let anything else distract you.
  • Work while you wait. This tip goes along with the "set a timer" tip above. I like to cook and bake at home, which of course involves waiting for food to get hot enough. Instead of zoning out on my phone or computer, I'll set the kitchen timer for how long it'll be until food is ready, and use the waiting time to tackle clutter.
  • Declutter before your usual wind-down time. I find it most useful to use the first 15-20 minutes after I get home from work to get rid of any clutter that has accumulated. This way, when I sit down to try to relax, I don't have a pile of mail to worry about or a collection of dirty tea and coffee mugs staring me down.
  • Get your family/roommates involved. If you live with other people, ask for help in decluttering any shared space. It's generally not a good idea to move or throw away anyone else's items, so if someone else's things are in the way, ask them kindly to help you organize. They'll benefit from a decluttered space, too!
  • Don't let perfection be the enemy of good enough. Getting a home to "maintenance level" takes a lot of work when you're just starting out as a minimalist. It took me many evenings after work and a lot of weekends to get my home to the point where it might only take an hour to completely declutter after a stressful work week. Clutter will always accumulate when you're busy, but once you make a habit (like setting timers) to tackle clutter in any free time, it will become more manageable. Don't let a temporary re-accumulation of clutter deter you. It happens to every minimalist whether they want to admit it or not.
A decluttered home can feel like a lofty, pie-in-the-sky ideal when you work full time and have to carefully balance work and life. However, it is possible to declutter if you go easy on yourself and accept the fact that a minimalist lifestyle--or simply a decluttered home--will take time to achieve. All it takes is time and patience with your surroundings and yourself.