Monday, March 10, 2008

The Simpler Life

Once upon a time, when I first started discovering the wonderful world of blogs, my favorite blogs were money and debt blogs.

I mean, I was doing okay, financially. I had a car loan, but no credit card debt. Still, I worried about money. Somehow, it all seemed to shoot out of my bank account every month at faster and faster rates.

And while, yes, technically, I was fine, I did find myself sometimes running up balances on my credit card that I couldn't pay off without pulling a little money out of savings. I would lie awake at night and stress out about money. How much would my credit card be this month? How were my savings doing? Should I reduce my contribution to my 401(k)?

So I read money blogs. And read and read and read. And they were great and offered very common sense advice that generally boiled down to this: spend less.

And that is good advice. And yet, every month, my credit card bill seemed to be higher than the month previous. Every month there seemed to be SOME REASON why I couldn't cut costs down.

I tried financial diets. I decided not to spend any money on anything unnecessary for a month. I spent the whole month desperately fiendy and wishing I could buy a myriad of things: dresses, purses, shoes, etc.

Nothing seemed to work. And the credit card bills continued their inexorable climb.

And then one day, I saw No Impact Man on the Colbert Report. Suddenly, I was not thinking of my purchases in terms of their monetary cost to me, but their environmental cost.

I decided to stop buying new things for a year. I decided not to buy any clothes, new or used, for a year.

I didn't really notice it at first. True, my August credit card bill was $500 less than my July credit card bill, but July had been an expensive month. While my August credit card bill was low, it wasn't abnormally low.

But then September's bill came and October's and November's and I started to realize that what was odd about these bills wasn't that they were so low. Again, none of them were insanely low. It's just that even though I had had various crises like a $510 car maintenance that normally would result in an insanely high credit card bill, I was still somehow able to keep the credit card bills down.

December hit. I had bought most of my presents before then, but I still had family presents which tend to be the most expensive ones anyway. I also threw a holiday party at my house. And yet? Thanks to DeSloFooMo, December's credit card bill reached a low I hadn't seen in over a year: $400 less than August's credit card bill.

This past month was an expensive one for a variety of reasons including a last minute ticket to the funeral in Chicago. That's okay really. That's what savings accounts are designed for: stuff like funerals that you can't plan in advance for.

But, as it turned out, I didn't need to dip into savings. My credit card bill was slightly higher than it has been lately, but still nowhere near as high as July. Only slightly higher than that "low month" of August. And because my credit card bills had been so insanely low the couple months prior, I had more than enough money to pay off the bill.

So oddly enough, my money issues began to end the moment I stopped obsessing over money, and started focusing on the bigger picture. While I could never quit with the buying when it was just about me and my finances, somehow I was able to give up shopping fairly easily when I realized that this was about more than myself.

I gave up the debt blogs except for one, my favorite. I don't really need them anymore. I've learned, finally, how to just spend less.


Crunchy Chicken said...

Congratulations on getting your spending under control. It's really hard for a lot of people!

Now just don't go out and buy yourself something in celebration :)

Sam said...

I became a tree hugger through money as well. I was tired of reading stories about baby boomers with yachts and million dollar mansions who one fine day decided to get rid of it to live simpler lives. *pfth* I decided I was going to do it right the first time without the millions. Ok, so it was more of a holier-than-thou attitude than anything else...but I think the sinking ice caps and dying polar bears need any excuse available.

EcoGeoFemme said...

what a great story. :)

Mad Hatter said...

Just goes to show all we need is the right motivation! Congrats!

Bad Human? said...

My fiance and have started to look at our purchases in the same light. We were reduced to one paycheck in January so we tightened down anyway but we've found by focusing on things like lessen our eco footprint we are also reducing our bills without any false sense of deprivation. We haven't committed to not spending anything but we are trying to buy a lot less and what we do buy to get used from Goodwill, Thrift Stores, Criagslist, Ebay etc. We also committed ourselves to selling or giving away a lot of the excess stuff that we have managed to fit into our tiny apartment and it feels great. There are still things we are having a hard time parting with but even more that we find we can give up without batting an eye.


Anonymity Please said...

I definitely know what you mean about getting spending under control! It's hard in todays world where we're on the go all the time, and in careers like mine, where people want us to dress well (i.e. buy new clothes often), drive nicer and nicer cars, and eat out all the time. I found that simply cutting back on what I bought outside of my groceries food-wise was a big help.

Good advice overall! :)

Perri said...

Wonderful post. We're working on trimming the fat here on Maggie's Farm. ...and I just picked up a dozen pet store crickets for "Frosty", the frog my kids rescued from certain icy death at the onset of winter! It's always somethin'!

Anyway, thank you. I'm inspired by this one.


Jennifer said...

Congratulations! That's wonderful...

I have to say that is what pulls me over to the environmental side of things.

I get so much satisfaction over lowering the heat or electric bill, over buying used, etc. :)

Chile said...

Isn't it amazing that all it took was a change in perspective? Instead of fighting yourself, you began working for something bigger than yourself. I'm proud of your accomplishments, Arduous!