Have you ever gotten towards the end of a challenge, and felt stuck in your bad habits until you started reviewing where you were at the beginning? As I counted down the hours until I can buy a box of Cheezits and a bottle of wine, I looked at where I was this time last month.
At Day 24, we’re in a better place.
Over three weeks ago, we embarked on Ruth Soukup’s 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge. I chose this challenge to try to embrace a more frugal lifestyle, and along the way I’ve learned some less-than-flattering things about myself, my family, and my bad habits:
- I’m afraid I spoil my kid, and I need to stop.
- I’m not as conscientious a spender as I should be, particularly on food.
- I have too much stuff.
- I am not now, nor will I ever be, Martha Stewart. Or even Martha Washington.
For every embarrassing admission #31DaysLWSZ forces me to make, I’m also finding a win or two. This challenge has given me victories big and small. I’m loving that in 24 days I’ve spent zero at restaurants, zero on junk food, and zero on frivolous stuff.
So here’s my list of wins for the month.
I’ve inventoried and used my food supply.
I love having an inventory, and will likely keep this habit long after October is over. It’s been so nice to have room in my freezer and pantry, to be able to look down the list and know what’s there. Even if I didn’t feel up to setting up a weekly or monthly meal plan, the list has helped us with our daily cooking ideas.
I can certainly see it keeping our food expenses down in the future to know what we have and how quickly we eat it before we go to the store.
We’ve also learned that $10/week isn’t a bad budget for produce. We’ve been wasting a lot less food since our perishables have been so limited. Compared to what we were throwing away this summer, we’ve made real progress in using the food we buy. Our compost bin is filling up slower, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve explored new recipes, like kale chips and pizza from scratch.
I’ll be making pizza again, can’t say the same about the kale chips.
One reason I’ve been able to be a more adventurous cook is because we’ve finally got our kitchen remodel far enough along to use the kitchen sink and dishwasher. I don’t have to worry if a pot is too big to wash in the bathroom sink, so I’ve restarted the bread machine and broken out some more cooking-intensive recipes.
We’ve eaten buffalo steaks and teriyaki, veggie chips and eggs in a basket. Little Bit and I have made cookies twice, which has been fun and helped satisfy our sweet tooth. I even managed to take care of our teacher appreciation luncheon contribution with homemade bread and honey butter.
I think eating up our processed food supply has helped us eat better food. Processed food is easy and quick, but it’s often tailored to a picky child’s palate. I don’t think we’ll entirely do away with it in our house (after all, we have a picky child), but I like eating less of it.
I decluttered 2 closets, and gave some stuff away.
I may not be able to claim an uncluttered home, but my closet and my daughter’s are definitely easier to navigate. (I left Jon’s alone) Little Bit agreed to get rid of several toys, too. The house got a little cleaner, and some stuff went bye-bye.
We have a long way to go before our stuff fits into our house easily, but any progress on this front makes me feel good. Certainly, I think I’ve gotten more critical of bringing new things into the house. I have no need of new clothes any time soon, or much of anything else material.
I’m not sure anyone will ever consider me a minimalist. For now, I’ll just work at accumulating less stuff than I get.
I made play dough.
I’ve written about my lack of crafting skills, but I did use what I had on hand to make some play dough for Little Bit. She’s thoroughly enjoyed it. We also got creative about her school assignments this week: creating a birthday card for one of her teachers and turning a paper plate into a pumpkin.
Never mind that I have pink glitter all over my house. We had fun!
Little Bit, Jon and I also found ourselves doing more family activities as the month went on: playing chess and Candy Land, hanging out with my in-laws, working on Halloween costumes, playing soccer, going for walks and reading more books.
I’m not going to say we cut back on TV (we didn’t), but we did find creative ways to fill the time that we might have otherwise spent going to Mickey D’s or to the movies.
We spent a month mostly at home and had a great time. No state fair trip, no kid’s museum, and no shopping as entertainment necessary.
I have successfully been to the grocery store and only bought 3 items!
Since we’re spending less, we’ve used this opportunity to track our budget more carefully. I’ve been tracking expenses carefully this month, and went back to last month.
Surprise! I was probably underestimating the amount of money we were spending on groceries.
While I knew what our average trip was (between $125-$150), I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that we were going more frequently than every week.
Our grocery trips were made every time we ran out of our standard 2 gallons of milk. That means we were about every 5 days.
So my standard behavior was to go to the grocery store about 5 times every 4 weeks and shop like normal.
I think #31DaysLWSZ has cured that problem. The trick to keeping those milk runs from blowing up our food budget is to get the little cart, and go straight to what I need. I wasn’t doing that very well before. I was going through the store, thinking about what we might be able to use or cook for dinner. That’s one reason we had such an overstocked supply of food in the freezer and pantry.
I still think of grocery shopping as my favorite chore. It’s fun, and I’ve rationalized overspending because, well, you have to eat. Well-stocked larders keep you from eating out as much, right?
I’m getting more comfortable having less food around. I eat healthier, waste less, and can actually find what I need (except those darn maraschino cherries that disappear into the depths of the fridge every time.)
A Better Life, One Step at a Time
In September, I was ready to make a change. I knew I wanted to be more conscientious with my spending habits, and I knew that a month of no spending would help me see problem areas with my spending.
I thought my bad habits would revolve around wanting to go out to eat, or wanting to buy ebooks or movie rentals on Amazon. Giving up that stuff was easy.
Nope, the hard part of being a better spender is changing my entire approach to food and food shopping. Twenty-four days of baby steps have us miles closer to new and better habits. That’s definitely worth a month without Cheezits.
Have you made any baby steps lately that have helped you better control bad habits or just live better? What goals are you working towards and how?