Initial Victories and Epiphanies

I was so pumped to start my Uber Frugal Month Challenge on January 1, that I started it a few weeks early.You may be familiar with a “no-spend” month where you refrain from frivolous expenses. I’ve never joined one, so I can’t explain the difference from experience. But the goal of the UFMC is to dive deep and realize our goals, analyze our spending, determine what can be cut, and examine why we spend and how to take action to get there.

Due to my early start, I have accomplished the following:

  1. I canceled my $24/mo subscription to Audible. ($288 annually)
  2. I decreased my monthly data plan by a few GB or $25.00. ($300 annually)
  3. I am using up the massages I’ve paid for and will cancel my massage membership effective February 24. In the short term, it’s frivolous money contrary to a no-spend month. But, I’ll be eliminating recurring monthly payments which equate to approximately $80 in fees and tips and will therefore and will save $800 annually.
  4. I cut cable and reduced my internet speed. I ordered an antenna that seems to work well. Because I wanted to put my bill at $75 or less, I decreased my 60 for the price of 100  mbps internet scam speed to 55 mbps. I reduced my $155 bill to $69. I called a few hours later for questions about billing and I hung up with a new package for $55 for the same internet and a streaming service one year ($14 savings). I know there is a hook in there, but I’ll take advantage now and set myself a reminder for December to review and update if needed. ($1200 annually).
  5. I made over $2800 in payments to my credit cards in December. I only had the ability to do so by low-balling my credit card payments this past year, so it’s unlikely I’ll achieve that number again, since I will pay as much as possible each month.

In sum: I immediately reduced discretionary monthly expenses by $150, with the goal to cancel a membership effective February 24 to save a grand total of ~ $210 in discretionary monthly expenses, starting March 1, or nearly $2400 for the year. If I can quit vaping by the end of the month, that’s another $2600 ($5,000) in annual savings. If I don’t quit vaping by then, I’ll call the Colorado Quit line for help.

After the realization (which only happened as I wrote this) I sat in shock and let it stew for a bit.

In looking at them monthly, these expenses seemed more reasonable ($417) and the future seemed so remote. I’m single, I don’t have kids, I don’t own a home and I don’t really have any grand career goals, how can I be about half way through my career to retirement already? When did that happen? Sweet lord, I’m 40 and I’m early middle-aged.

Even with out-of-control food expenditures, I could have used that income to avoid and repay debt, or for savings and investments. $5000 is just shy of maxed out annual contributions to a Roth IRA.  Or hell, I could have spent it on more travel and added to my adventures as that at least means something to me. But by spending it the way I have, I just gave it away and I have nothing to show for it but 140 + channels of crappy television and the undiscovered health impacts of vaping.  Oh, and credit card debt. And, alarmingly, I felt like I didn’t have that income- it never existed in the first place.

Aside from lost opportunities, what bothers me is that I minored in Economics and focused on consumerism, the underbelly of capitalism, Marxism, and the mechanisms stacked against us if we don’t do for ourselves. (I’m not anti-market/capitalism, but I think well-balanced mixed economies are best). While I am no expert, I can’t claim ignorance of the consequences of my spending habits. I am fully aware of the financial interests at play that conflict with my own. We’re constantly bombarded by the message that we are consumers first, everyone else succeeds when we spend. We should look at costs in terms of monthly payments without consideration of future consequences. We can squeeze in one more luxury because luxuries make us happy. Not having luxuries is bad- we’re missing out.

Intellectually and consciously I knew better. But, I fell into the trap anyway and I fell hard. I have no one to blame but myself. Rather than beat myself up (as a reformed perfectionist I’m excellent at that), I’m going to celebrate the victory and the breakthrough. It will be more productive that way.

I can guess at why this happened in the first place. I suspect it’s the same reasons why anyone else in similar circumstances falls. Emergencies, trips, disappointment, stress, fear, coping, fun, instant gratification, rising costs, convenience. But to regain control, I’ll have to dive deeper. I’ll have to examine my urges to spend as they pop up and choose to do something different.  This is the only way you can effect change. There isn’t just one battle to be won here, it’s a battle I’ll have to face repeatedly.

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