My Money, My Life

March 18, 2012

Wrapping up, Part 2

In the last five months of 2011, I spent 22 percent less and put 82 percent more in savings than I had in August to December 2010. Even in August, when I made all those exceptions for the wedding, I spent 34 percent less than I had in August the previous year—in part because I didn’t have a lot of credit card debt to pay off in addition to regular expenses.

The biggest surprise as I compared my spending month to month came at the end of the year. In December 2011 I spent a whopping 46 percent less than I  had in the same month in 2010. In 2010 I  bought my bike and a ton of Christmas presents, plus I  stocked up on underwear and other odds and ends before starting the No Stuff Experiment. In 2011 I simplified my Christmas expenses and made no major purchases other than Christmas gifts. (Flights, hotels, tours, and train tickets for the France trip were paid off in November from our joint savings, so they did not factor into my December 2011 expenses.)

What really surprised me in comparing the two Decembers were my food expenses. In 2011, despite my flurry of cookie baking and two holiday dinner parties, I spent 45 percent less on groceries than I had the previous December. How did that happen? I don’t have receipts from 2010, so I’m not certain. I’ll just assume that after a year of closely examining my spending, I learned to budget a little more wisely.

When I started the No Stuff Experiment, I wasn’t too concerned about money. I had eliminated my debt a few years back, and I was trucking along just fine with the little budget I had set up for myself. Sure, I had savings goals. My 2011 New Year’s resolution was to save a certain amount by December, and I was able to keep that resolution in part because I restricted purchases. But, still, money was not a primary motivating factor for the experiment.

In October, when I returned to my simple-living reading list, I picked up the 2008 edition of Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. I can’t say this book changed my life—or even the way I think about money or work or living. But it did change something. It helped me to reimagine my life with less stuff and early retirement.

Joe and Vicki developed a nine-step program for people to use to examine how they spend money. The exercises are useful, not just for folks with debt, but also for folks like me who are trying to tread more lightly and who are looking for work-life balance. As I mentioned in my last post, in November I started tracking my spending differently. I let go of my monthly budget, and instead now track withdrawals and deposits daily in a new spreadsheet. At the end of November and December, I categorized expenses by type and subtype (e.g., Food, groceries; Food, restaurants; Utilities, phone; Transportation, gas) in a separate spreadsheet, called “Monthly Tabulation” in Your Money or Your Life vernacular. I started to review my spending in each category but felt stymied.

I realized I needed to do my financial planning with my partner. It no longer made sense to establish solo spending/saving goals. So, as of January 1, Channing began tracking his expenses like I tracked mine (he was essentially doing this already), and for the past two months both Channing and I have entered our withdrawals and deposits in the Monthly Tabulation. We spent about a half hour at the end of January and February analyzing our spending and setting goals.

Without getting too bogged down in the details, I’ll say that these discussions have been enlightening for both of us. Channing is now keeping tabs on what he does with the cash he withdraws from the ATM; he’s not buying as many rounds of drinks at after-work happy hours; and in February he paid down a couple thousand dollars in credit card debt. I’ve been adjusting to post–No Stuff Experiment spending freedom. In January, a lot of money went toward stuff, but my food expenses were down. In February, I realized I wasn’t in a race to make up for lost shopping time, and I found a nice balance—more food, significantly less stuff.

Oh, and our savings account? Yeah, seventy-five days into the new year, we’ve already doubled the amount we had in there on December 31 (and have also surpassed the total we had before we took out money for the France trip). I’m proud of us.

(In case anyone’s counting, I have one more wrapping-up post to go.)

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One Response to “My Money, My Life”

  1. The Husband Says:

    I’m proud of us too, but the credit should go to you. Without you, I’d have already poured all my money into Nats tickets!


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