Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mini Spending Fast

I am currently working on a mini spending fast. You know my current obsession with minimalism, I trust, and I am also getting into a bunch of different things on how to try to make some progress on my school loans. Admittedly, I do not have the "gazelle focus" championed by Dave Ramsey, but I'm trying to figure out what I can do that works for me. Yes, I know that the only real way to get rid of debt quickly is to ruthlessly and relentlessly only put extra money towards debt. Yet, (and maybe it's all rationalization) I keep finding things that are hard for me to define in terms of "want" vs. "need".

One example is food. I eat a lot of food. (It made me laugh earlier this week when I went out to breakfast with a friend; she knows I eat a lot, but I don't think she's ever seen it. Her eyes got pretty big at the amount of food I could eat at one sitting!) I also have allergies and intolerances that mean that I respond better if I eat organic food, etc. While groceries are a growing expense for everyone as food gets more and more expensive, there are things that can be done to make the grocery bill cheaper that I am not willing to do. I don't really need to lose weight (okay, I'd like to drop a few pounds that I've regained in the last 1-2 years, but 5-ish is more maintenance than true weight loss), so eating when I'm hungry really is about fueling my activities. I'm not going to cut down amounts. As to the health difference I feel, even though I don't like having to be a princess about the quality of my food, that is not even a consideration.

What about something like massage? I know that there is no way that the financial gurus out there would consider that a necessity. It's a luxury item if ever there was one! Yet, I do not find it to be so. I am a movement and body worker. Not to mention the fact that I have been known to play hard outside. There is is huge difference in how I move and feel if I keep my muscles from getting too tight. Yes, I have learned a few tricks to self treat as much as possible, and I certainly spread them out as much as I can to save some money, but I do not feel that it is strictly a luxury. Again, maybe it is a rationalization, but I do feel strongly about this.

Then there are doing things with friends. I have been working on this category. Thankfully, most of my hiking and such can be done for the price of gas. But there's cross country skiing and the occasional weekend trip, as well as maybe a vacation. Yes, I know that these are luxuries, but as a single person with not a lot of family in the area, I have a hard time ignoring this stuff as well. I know how I get if I spend too much time alone in my house, and it is not pretty.

Ahem, now that you know about all of the things I feel guilty about and keep rationalizing to myself, here's one of the things that I've decided to do to start to address some of it. I keep hearing about people who have done year long spending fasts and the way that they have knocked out huge chunks of debt as a result. Granted, they had that "gazelle focus" and didn't rationalize the way that you see here. I can't quite bring myself to do that, but I did decide that I would try for the month of January to only spend money 2 days a week (as much as possible). One is on my day off, because that's when I have to get errands done, and it's a good day to get bills paid and so forth. The other is on Saturday, because that's the day that I'm usually going to go do something with friends. The exceptions to this is if I legitimately run out of food (that is, there is NO food, not just that I'm not in the mood for what I have or it's a weird meal that uses up leftovers), or if I'm meeting with a friend on a different day of the week. Hey, in the last year or two, I let my social life dry up a bit because I stopped working so hard on it and as people moved away and got busy with other things, I got left behind. I have to rebuild, and that is definitely a priority!

As I write this, I'm about a week in (because why wait to start in January when I could start now?), and it is crazy to me how even this little move, even with all of my rationalizations and exceptions, makes a
 difference in my approach to things. It's even crazier how it helps me to address a number of goals all at once!

Financially

Okay, this is the primary goal of doing this. Here's what I'm finding. So far, I am too early into it to have much of an idea of what it may be saving me in terms of actual dollars and cents numbers. What I do notice is that I have a tendency to run to the grocery store for any little excuse. Maybe I'm a little extra hungry, so I eat some of my snack food because I figure I can replace it before I need it. Or, I go to the grocery store when I am in a low willpower situation anyway (hungry and/or tired) so I make extra impulse buys. Knowing that I am not going to the grocery store for a week makes me really stop and think about how hungry I am and what I choose to eat. For example, I do have a lot of snack food on hand because I need it to get through my work day. When I'm home, it makes me not choose my work snacks but maybe eat leftovers instead.

There's also a matter of food waste. I got a spaghetti squash one Thursday with a plan to make a recipe with it later the next week. Squash can sometimes last for a good month or two.  Well, not this one. On Saturday, I noticed that there was a small, localized soft spot. If I made the squash that day, I could probably use most of it for my recipe. If I waited, I would likely have to toss it. Prior to my little spending fast, I would have taken note of all the stuff I had to do that day and decided to pick up another squash the next time I was at the store. This time, I knew I had to make time to make the recipe, because otherwise I was out a squash. (By the way, it was this recipe, and I thought it was pretty tasty!) So, not only would I have spent a few more dollars on another squash, but I would have probably picked up some other things that I didn't need that much.

Beyond food, I have found that there are a couple of other purchases that I have needed/wanted to make recently, and having an extra couple of days before I could go get them helped me make a little smarter choices. For example, instead of just going out and buying a couple of things, I realized I could get them on Amazon, and while I sometimes like avoiding the giant, I happened to have some rewards points that I could redeem for making those purchases with something that felt like free money. It's also a great way to help weed out a few impulse buys. If it's not still on my mind and list a couple days later, I really didn't need it!

Eating Well

I've already given you the boring details of my food issues. (In this post and too many others! Sorry!) However, like everyone, I don't eat as well as I should. There are always things that I can clean up a little. For one, there are certain processed foods that fit my dietary restrictions, and because they are easy, I eat them more than I should. By knowing that I can only shop about once a week, I get enough for the week, but not enough for the impulse moments when I'm hungry and they're easy and they just sound good. Instead, I have to turn to leftovers, or a bag of apples. It makes me eat better.

This also helps with my weight maintenance goals. While I am not trying to actively lose weight, the impulse eating may be a big part of the extra couple of pounds. Sometimes if there's too much availability of comfort food, I may want it due to hunger, but I may also want it due to the fact that it tastes good or that I am tired or bored. I am much more likely to be okay with the leftovers if I am truly hungry, and I eat less of them than the food that just sounds good.

Conservation

My sister and I slowly worked our way through "Laudato Si" last year. I loved everything about it, but it does make me think about and challenge some of the ways that I do things. Realizing how much I consume in general and how that affects my humanity throughout the world makes me want to find even small things that I can do to make progress. This is definitely one of the reasons that I feel so good about minimalism in general. Once a week grocery store purchases make me be very mindful of what I buy, I tend to get more fresh foods that I will have to cook (again with avoiding the excess snacks and all their excess packaging!), not to mention the gas I save from going once and being a little more organized about my errands to fit them all into the day. Not to mention something like that squash that I ate instead of throwing it out.

Time

I recognize that I have more time as a single person than some people do, but I still want to use time the best I can. There are a lot of things that I want to do that I say that I don't have the time to do. That's silly. To be honest, I have plenty of time if I am better about using it. It takes a lot of time to make several extra trips to the grocery store each week!

Enough

This is one of the things that I love the most about this little experiment. I can't tell you the number of times that I've had a long day at work, so I feel like I "deserve" whatever impulse buys sound really good at the grocery store that day. Or I'm a little down, so I feel like I deserve that extra snack, etc.  It turns out that I don't need or deserve those things at all. What I am finding is that when I don't gratify every little desire every time it comes to mind is that I am enjoying what I have so much more! When I am truly hungry, I am grateful for those apples or leftovers that wouldn't have been my first choice.   And, yes, I still do buy those treats, but knowing I can't just run to the store and replace them means that I wait for the appropriate time to eat them, and I enjoy them so much more as a result! Yes, some people have enough will power that they do this anyway, but I am not one of those people.


There you have it. Even with all my exceptions and rationalizations, recognizing that I could do more, this little plan is still doing something significant.  The fact that it is a bit of a challenge, but still feels very doable means that I should be able to at least keep it up for January, and possibly beyond.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Can't See Christmas

It is December 22nd, and I don't know what Christmas is going to look like this year. I had a plan, and it was a good one. Some good friends and I were going to go into the mountains and do some cross country skiing. Believe you me, despite the fact that it is not what I would plan for my Christmas if I had the choice, it would be more than enough to make Christmas magical. Mountain air, gliding over snow, always magical. (For the record, if I could plan MY perfect Christmas, it would be with a husband/family... And would probably be spending it in the mountains with good friends ;).) All I had to do was survive Christmas Eve without too many special traditions to share with someone, and then Christmas could be really fantastic.

Then the weather forecasts started to come in. I haven't checked the most recent ones, but it's not looking good for my plan B. We may be able to go on Saturday, but the temperatures do not promise to make for the best skiing. Sunday, skiing sounds perfect, but the roads to get there will most likely not be worth the risk. So, it's quite possible that I will go Saturday, be home in time for the worst of Christmas Eve, and have little (if anything) going on Christmas Day. I rarely admit these things to anyone, because I feel like it's too pathetic for words. The reason that I decided to come out and say it is because I've read a couple of blog posts in the last few days from people struggling with infertility and singleness, and it was really good, partly just because I was reminded that I am not actually alone in the fact that holidays are not the easiest this year (or for several years...)

One of the posts did a fantastic job of looking at the holy family on the first Christmas. Mary traveling, feeling large and uncomfortable with a very difficult road and way to travel. Joseph, who nearly had to divorce Mary a few months before, leading the way. A child born, not in a warm, safe environment that had been lovingly prepared by a nesting mother, but in a stable, surrounded by livestock. Something clicked for me in looking at that post. Somehow I have gotten a picture of Christmas embedded in my mind and I can't seem to get it out. It's Christmas trees and glowing lights, maybe candles for ambience. It's baking Christmas cookies as a family. It's watching Christmas movies together, going to Mass together, and spending the day in some way that's meaningful to all. All of this, of course, with a smile on everyone's face while we are overjoyed with Christmas spirit.

The reality is that candles are best done without small children around, and calm feelings invoked by Christmas tree lights can only go so far with the chaos of family. I can't even eat Christmas cookies anymore. The rest might be nice, but likely punctuated by a lot more fit throwing from sugar highs and everyone being ramped up with excitement than what occurs in anyone's thoughts or dreams. While most people DO walk around with a smile on our faces during Christmas (at least at gatherings and for photos) there are plenty of people who have pasted them on, because that's what's expected of them.

There is nothing wrong with those things, and I am so excited for those who do get to celebrate whatever iterations of those things as are meaningful for their families. I am especially excited for those that get to experience it after many long years of NOT having it! There are lots of people for whom the reality of Christmas means drowning in credit card debt to try to attempt the "perfect Christmas". There are people that have family gatherings that are made stressful by the built up baggage of the years, some overt, and some festering beneath the surface. Some families will be celebrating around one of the many bugs and viruses that spread so rapidly this time of year. Many people will have days full of gatherings, but each one painful as they work around questions and comments that poke at deep, hidden hurts, such as the grief of infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, singleness, mental illness, and so much more.  Or there is one family that lost their husband/father in a bike vs. vehicle accident this summer. Many others that have lost loved ones and have to face the holidays with a gaping hole that can't be filled. Even concerns about politics and many other things loom large in ways that can't completely be put to rest and are sometimes even exacerbated by all of the celebrations.

The point is not to become mired in the dark side of the holidays. These are just the every day realities that we all have to think about. These things do not always keep people from truly celebrating, and sometimes it means people choosing joy that is so much more meaningful because of their struggles. It's just that there is no such thing as perfection in this life, not even in a perfect-looking Christmas.

Speaking of the "perfect Christmas". Let's get back to the holy Family. How perfect was their first Christmas? I would say that if we can step back from the familiar details long enough to see the real suffering that is inherent with those circumstances, we might see things a little differently. I can't see Christmas this year, because I don't know what it will look like. I don't know exactly what my plans will be. I may spend some of it with friends, or I may have a quiet day at home. It may be difficult, or it may be peaceful and sweet. I never know how the emotions will go. (I do know that I have some good ideas for food that I am excited to enjoy!) The point is, maybe I'm going about this wrong, being in search of a perfect Christmas, or lacking the perfect Christmas, the next acceptable alternative. I'm feeling like what I need to go in search of is Christ, whether in the Mass (which may not feel great, but He is always there, no matter how it feels!), whether in the quiet or in the people that I spend time with. Know that whatever your circumstances are, the ones that you are thrilled about and the ones that you are dreading, the ones that you can see coming and the ones that take you by surprise, in the people that make your Christmas special and in the special people that make your Christmas difficult, and whatever else, I will be praying that you will also find Christ this Christmas.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fresh Start

I admit it. I went through a few years hating Advent. It feels like my whole life is Advent, so I wasn't that interested in a liturgical season of waiting. There's something about it though... Somehow, lately, hope has crept back into Advent. Not necessarily hope that the major life circumstances will change (like marriage and children), though that hope is sometimes there as well. Maybe it's more about the transformation of waiting.

The other day, I was talking to someone about how our Thanksgiving went and I was telling her that I got to see my super sweet niece and nephew (one year old twins, and seriously, ridiculously cute!) Her response was, "Does that give you any ideas?" She knows I'm single. She knows that I would not want kids on my own. What she apparently does not know is that the lack of spouse and kids in my life is not by choice. That I would like nothing more than that and one of the most painful, crushing things in my life that wears me down day after day and year after year is the fact that none of that seems to come together for me. Mostly I can brush stuff like that off in the moment, but I don't know if she caught that time that there was a pause before the shrug. The shrug was supposed to indicate some sort of socially appropriate "what will be, will be" attitude. It would go along with the assumption that I apparently just haven't decided to settle down yet, and if I ever do, it will happen. Because that's a lot less pathetic for public consumption than the fact that I have failed at making that happen in my life. I'm not sure if the truth cracked open for a moment in my eyes, but I know that I was frozen for a second by reality crashing down before I could pull off the public charade.

(Super hopeful, right? It's going somewhere else, I promise!)

The thing is, I don't even know what it is that I'm waiting for anymore. The desire to share my life is something that I don't think will ever go away (as evidenced by the fact that it gets harder in some ways each year, never easier). Yet, there are no guarantees that it will ever happen for me. That is the reality of life. My point being that I can hope for that to change, but waiting for it like it's just a matter of time is a little absurd.

One little glimpse that I am starting to get into Advent is the actual liturgical meaning of the wait. (I know! Who would have seen that coming?!) There is the wait for the birth of the Christ child. The recognition that God became man for us to be redeemed. Whatever suffering we have, big and small, is redeemed. Whatever parts of us that we can't fix, can't heal, can't seem to change, He can redeem.  Our past, the ways that we have been broken and the things that we have broken, He redeems. When we wait, we wait for Him. When we need healing and meaning for our lives, it is coming and has come. Certainly we have certain prayers and dreams and desires that we hold most dear and wait for more than any others, but whether or not we see the fulfillment of those the way we would like, we will see redemption in them. That is the joy of Christmas.*

This also refers to the next coming of Christ, whether in a general way at the end of the world, or at our own deaths. While God does bring a lot of redemption and healing into this life, it is all partial until we fully experience eternal life. It is a reminder to me that even if I do someday get to live out the fulness of my vocation, it won't be perfect. There will still be more that I ache and long for. That is the reality of the fact that we are created for heaven, but live right now on earth.

The night that I came home after my acquaintance's innocent question, I was broken. I had a lot to do, but I honestly cried on the couch instead, because all the wounds were exposed, and there wasn't much to be done. It was one of those dark nights, but. It was also one of the first few days of Advent. The reminder that the "dawn from on high" is coming. The idea that I don't know what it will look like, but there is healing for all brokenness for every single one of us. The next morning was the perfect day to start fresh. For me, waiting in this moment is understanding that the darkness of our struggles and uncertainties is going to be followed by morning, when the dawn from on high will break upon us. Someday it will all make sense. Someday, I will once again know what it is that I am waiting for.  Today I will do my best to do the little things that I can.

*Joy at Christmas is something that is available to all. Joy, I think, being trustful confidence in the Redeemer, gratitude in all things. This is not the same as happiness; Christmas is one of the most painful as well as the most joyous times of the year for people. Such is the way of this life.