Saving money, reaching goals, and making a life I can enjoy.
Every year, many of us make some kind of New Year’s resolution, which usually involves health and nutrition. This year, my resolution is to analyze my spending habits, cut back on anything unnecessary, and save for some specific goals I’ve had for almost 20 years. In order to do this, I will have to budget creatively. I’ve been unemployed since August, so saving money is going to require some extreme sacrifices. I’m not one who likes to deprive myself of simple pleasures (indeed, that’s all I can afford), but I also do not want to sacrifice the only life I have, working hard for dreams I will never be able to afford. I’m done with being exhausted from never getting ahead.
Something many forget when thinking about unemployment is that while some used to have a comfortable salary, losing a job has suddenly found many living beyond their means. The monthly bills have not changed, but the income has. It is my suspicion that I am not the only one finding themselves in this precarious position. I find my budget too strapped to pay off high interest credit card debt and put money away for the future. This could put me in a vicious, and unproductive, financial cycle for the remainder of my life if I can’t figure out how to reverse this slide. Things I took for granted before losing my job through no fault of my own, are now things that keep me up at night with anxiety.
In order to live within my means, under the circumstances, the only expense I can reasonably eliminate is rent. This expense is fully 50% of the amount I receive each month from unemployment and would be nearly 75% of my income if I worked full-time at minimum wage. The lack of income would never allow me to pay off credit cards or student loans. So, I have decided that I can easily do without renting, and have resolved to eliminate this from my budget at the end of my lease this summer. I didn’t plan to have a minimum wage budget, but I guess always living on a minimum wage budget would prevent something like this from happening in the case of a future job loss, so… I must diverge from American norms and stop living on credit (car notes, home loans, credit cards, etc.). I intend to embark on a “no spend” January to save money for the next phase of my life – a phase in which I won’t be required to pay interest charges. I hope to continue the no-spend trend until ALL my goals are met, but I will focus on just one month at a time so that I won’t get discouraged or overwhelmed.
You may be asking, what does no-spend mean? Well, that is a personal choice. My budget will look pretty similar to an ordinary month, but it will cut out all the “extras.” I will set a weekly budget of $50 maximum for groceries. I imagine that number will be closer to $35, as I’m pretty good with scratch cooking and budget grocery shopping. During the month, I will not to buy new clothing or other non-emergent items, like wine and craft supplies; I’ll make some of the things I need like soap and deodorant. Another way I will reduce my spending is by walking instead of driving; there are convenient walking trails from my house to the grocery store, which will serve as both a savings on gas and help with losing the quarantine 15 I’ve picked up in the last few months.
For this budget challenge, I have three main goals to accomplish by the end of May:
- Pay off the balance of my car loan
- Have a trailer hitch installed on my vehicle
- Buy a camper and move into it June 1, 2021
These goals have been posted on my ‘vision board‘ where I can see it everyday for motivation. A copy of my loan note and pictures of campers are tacked to a corkboard, along with some listings of local plots of land for sale. The law of attraction states that we can manifest our dreams through active visualization, and I have long used the vision board for motivation. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. It certainly won’t hurt to try, right? To see these images every day as I go through my routine, reinforces my efforts.
The result of a no-spend January has another consequence that makes me smile a little, and that is not contributing to a system that continues to abuse American citizens. I am not a fan of Reaganomics and prefer not to contribute to this economic practice by sending my money to companies that pay less taxes than a public school teacher. I have been actively boycotting Amazon for almost a year for this particular reason. The news that a new stimulus package has been signed is still fresh, but the actions our politicians took over the last 9 months cannot go without some acknowledgement from me. To make a statement politicians and corporations will understand, there must be some financial impact. Take away the money, and they may just pay attention to the needs of the American people.
I’m just one person, and my no-spend practice alone will have no direct impact on the national or local economy. If 50% of the population participated, the statement would be loud and clear: without the taxpayer, their jobs would cease to exist. It will never happen, and that’s probably a good thing, but for my own sanity I need to make some changes to maintain my personal integrity. My opinion is that politicians believe that the more they squeeze people for money, the more and harder they will work. When comparing America to other countries, this theory does not pan out. Americans are less happy, have more issues with mental health, and have a lower quality of life than some of our European counterparts. Unhappy, overworked people are not as productive as is commonly thought.
Some will get multiple jobs to pay for a basic existence, and others will re-think their American Dream to carve out a life for themselves between working shifts. I would rather live more with less things, than work myself to death and forget to enjoy my life. In my middle age, I have decided to prioritize my life experience over my life’s possessions. That will mean giving some things up in exchange- mainly working too much, and buying material items.
And this is what has brought me to commit to a no spend January. To work toward goals I have put off for too long, and to make a statement, no matter how insignificant its impact. For myself, I will have no choice but to break old habits, like drinking wine before bed and ordering take away too often. It’s a perfect opportunity to teach my son about budgeting while I watch the balance of my savings look more and more like freedom. It will take longer than a month to get the results I’m hoping for, but January is a good place to start.