December list.

Happy New Year, sort of.

Happy new year! Now take your creepy plant and GET OUT. I have no idea what this picture is about, frankly — but I feel like shutting the door on 2017 is probably the right thing to do.

I did way too much shopping in December, more than I had planned to do and a good bit for myself (not just gifts). We’ve been dealing with some serious family stress resulting from the car accident my Mom and Grandma were in in November, and it looks like Grams will have to go to an assisted living home after all. I think that this sort of sapped my willpower for savings. I was also very, very busy with work.

In December, I:

  • Paid for my Seamwork subscription with money earned doing surveys.
  • Used a few more Seamwork credits to buy a digital Colette sewing pattern.
  • Redeemed points on two credit cards for cash back for holiday shopping. We do this every year — it’s one of the reasons we use a credit card for most purchases even though we pay them off in full every month.
  • Used coupons on my Kroger card to get the following for free: a roll of Mentos, a Sunkist soda, Jell-O pudding mix, and store brand frozen green beans. (The really funny thing was that just before I got the Mentos coupon I had the old theme song stuck in my head for several days, and didn’t even know they still made them!)
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Used a Groupon to treat my elementary school aged cousins to a trip to the science museum while they were visiting on holiday break.
  • Used a coupon code to get a free 8 X 10 photo print at Walgreens.
  • Used a coupon code to get 40% off at an independent clothing retailer, and used cash gifted to me by my grandma for the rest. Yeah, there really was a lot more shopping than usual this month. At least I looked for bargains!
  • Bought some cherry-filled Hershey’s Kisses and a hard-to-find gift item on holiday clearance. I’ll put the Kisses away for Valentine’s Day and the gift away for next Christmas.
  • Watched 3 DVDs from the library, and read 7 physical books (including one interlibrary loan) and 17 eBooks from the library. I still spent $28.12 on books, though, so that wasn’t as impressive as it could have been.

All in all, December wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t super impressive, either. I really did shop more than I had intended. Here’s hoping for a more productive 2018.

November list.

This is a Twin Peaks joke.

I’m pretty glad that November is over. It wasn’t a disaster or anything, but it was stressful. I bought more fabric than I intended last month, and I also probably spent too much money on clothing. I did a little better cooking earlier in the month (and we did have a nice, small Thanksgiving at home), but I was kind of sick in the latter part of the month and I let some stuff slide. It was a mixed bag, I guess.

In November I:

  • Made pumpkin oat bar cookies, technically on Halloween — though we didn’t eat any until the next day. It’s almost always cheaper to bake your own treats, especially when they need to accommodate food sensitivities or allergies. I also made Funfetti-equivalent cookies using a gluten-free boxed cake mix I’d gotten with a coupon, and leftover sprinkles from last Valentine’s Day.
  • Paid for half of my Patreon payments using money earned doing surveys (again).
  • Had another sports-related free taco (and $1 drink) at Taco Bell with my Mom. I think somebody stole a base during the World Series? And that magically produced free tacos. I don’t know. I don’t make the rules. I just eat the free tacos.
  • Was given free tickets to see “Escape to Margaritaville,” the Jimmy Buffet stage musical. I took my Mom, who is a huge Buffet fan, and enjoyed it more than I expected. There was a dance number featuring zombie life insurance salesmen! (No, that didn’t make much sense even in context; it was a character’s LSD flashback — and my favorite part, especially when they tap danced!)
  • Skipped getting groceries one week in order to clear out some pantry and freezer space.
  • Went to see a movie with Lennox and friends in another part of town, so we took the opportunity to stop in at Aldi. We stocked up on individual Greek yogurt cups and gluten-free items, including gluten-free french fried onions for Thanksgiving. Green bean casserole is back on the menu for me! (I’m from the Midwest. Don’t @ me.)
  • Filled a spice jar with $0.20 of dried sage from the bulk bins at Central Market.
  • Shopped a couple of Black Friday sales. Lennox bought a few Blu-rays at rock bottom prices, and I bought a couple of digital sewing patterns I’d had on my list for a while. I also bought some very inexpensive knit fabric on sale over that weekend (as low $1.65 a yard, which is unheard of).
  • Ran out of one of my favorite Adagio teas, and was delighted to receive two generous samples with my replacement order — one in a tiny collector’s tin. (It worked in their favor, of course — I’ll be ordering the Thai Chai I sampled.)
  • Watched two DVDs, read one physical book, and read 17 ebooks from the library. I also read one book for free from Prime Reading, but I spent $33.00 on other books…so that was kind of a bust compared to last month. Still, I’ve read 337 books so far this year, but have only paid $346.38 — for an average of approximately $1.03 per book. Considering the amount I read, it could be much worse! Thank goodness for the library.

They say that people who perceive themselves as having good luck are just more aware of and take advantage of small opportunities. Being frugal is the same way, I think. Don’t ignore the big things, but the small things really do add up over time.

With that in mind, here are a couple of things I’d like to improve:

  • Work lunches. I only go in to a physical office two days a week. My Mom and I go out every single Wednesday for lunch — and have for over 10 years, it’s our weekly tradition and is already in the budget — so I only need to worry about Mondays. I really liked the restaurant downstairs from our office, so I use to eat there every week…but they recently moved to a new location. There is only one other restaurant I like within easy walking distance, and even it is too far on days when I don’t feel well or when the weather is uncooperative. I also know that it’s ridiculous to spend over $40 a month on this when I can bring my own lunch with only a little forethought.
  • Holiday gifts. Most years I shop year round — taking advantage of sales and buying unique items when I come across them. I put these gifts away in a box in the closet, but when I checked the box in early November I only had one gift put away so far this year! I had lower-than-usual income through the spring and summer, so I’ve been shopping a lot less than I normally would. (I used to make most of my gifts, but my current energy level no longer allows for that.) I definitely need to be more proactive about this next year, but I will also need to simplify my expectations (and budget) for gifts this year.

I need to focus on client work in December, so January won’t be so overwhelming — but I also intend to continue on the novel I started writing last month for National Novel Writing Month. I didn’t come anywhere near 50,000 words, but I got a good start and I really like the story I’m telling. I’m also going to mull over what projects I intend to do in the new year — both work-related and otherwise — so that I stay on track in several areas of my life. I really only write these lists for my own use, but since that’s the case I may add different tracking parameters next year.

October List.

This classy photo was free.

I did have my annual-once-again Halloween tea party earlier this month, and it was the one of the best low-key gatherings I’ve hosted in a long time. We didn’t spend too much over our usual grocery budget, either. Unfortunately I did purchase fabric for a costume that I didn’t have time to make, but I can just pop it in the fabric box for next year. I’ll consider it a Halloween investment rather than merely a spending failure. Hah!

This month I:

  • Paid for half of my Patreon pledges using money earned doing surveys.
  • Finally found a plain white 100% cotton tablecloth for a decent price. It was new in the package with a $30 price tag, but I got it on eBay for $11. I couldn’t have gotten comparable fabric so inexpensively — and this way I didn’t need to hem it, either.
  • Remembered to use the points on my Walgreens card before they expired, plus a coupon, which gave me a total $5 discount on my crazy-expensive-but-dentally-necessary specialty mouthwash.
  • Got a free packet of M & Ms and a free pouch of potato soup mix with my Kroger card.
  • Painstakingly downloaded most of a Hall & Oates greatest hits album for free using the Freegal service through the Houston Public Library. I can download five MP3 tracks a week, DRM free — they’re mine to keep. It usually takes several weeks to get a full album, but if you’re patient you can get a lot of great music. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Freegal on here before, but I use it as a way to download music I like but wouldn’t really pay for — which for me, oddly enough, generally means greatest hits albums. But not always! Within the last year I’ve downloaded David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Psychedelic Furs, Simon & Garfunkel, Arcade Fire, and a lot of assorted classical music. You can’t always find exactly what you want in their somewhat limited catalogue, but you can always find something interesting.
  • Downloaded two free fonts and several graphics sets from Creative Market (including the photo above, which I obviously made awful with text). This is another resource for free stuff I’ve never managed to mention here! They have six free items every week — photos, fonts, blog templates, and more. I generally use these things for my own amusement (I am not a graphic designer of any sort), but I like the stuff on Creative Market so much that I’ve purchased my last 3 or 4 WordPress blog templates there.
  • Watched a free horror movie on Google Play and used a coupon code to get a $1.99 streaming rental of “Logan.”
  • Got a referral for a new private bookkeeping client, which should bring in a little extra income in 2018.
  • Did a few tarot readings for a little extra income, too.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Watched 3 DVDs and read 24 eBooks from the library. The library is the best thing in the entire universe. (I only paid $13.70 on all of my other reading, which was at least an improvement over this year’s monthly average.)

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year, so I assume I’ll be doing more writing than spending in November. But we’ll see! Sometimes I manage my writing time so poorly that we end up eating more take out. Whoops!

September’s list.

I missed two weeks of work between late August and early September, plus I have a private client with outstanding invoices, so I found myself a little short of personal cash this month. (Our household income was unaffected, though. Lennox is a salaried employee.) It was a good reminder that there are always more ways to economize, and also that I should probably cultivate an additional income stream. I worked a combination of multiple part time jobs and side gigs before I became ill, and although I would love to be both physically and mentally well enough to work more, I would never want a traditional full time job again if I could avoid it.

Though I have a part time job in an tax office and I work bookkeeping clients for myself on the side, this is the first time in many years that all of my income comes from the same skill set. I used to have money coming in from at least two different kinds of skills, and usually more. Even last year I did audition coaching and taught voice lessons. I’m definitely under-earning, even considering my limitations. So I need to think on that a bit.

In September I:

  • Paid for all Patreon pledges and my Seamwork subscription with money earned doing surveys.
  • Sent in a tip to The Dollar Stretcher (a resource I highly recommend) on how smaller households can still benefit from warehouse club memberships, which was published online. They gave me 3 free issues of their print publication as a thank you. I never expected that; I was just trying to be helpful!
  • Discovered once again that simply cleaning something well generally keeps me from replacing it — in this case my razor. I soaked it in vinegar (sans blade) for about half an hour and scrubbed it with a brush to get the soap scum out of its crevices. Although I plan to replace it eventually with something that will take cheaper replacement blades, I’m happy enough with it for now — now that it looks almost like new again.
  • Decided to audit the Nanowrimo courses from Weslayan on Coursera for free. This means I don’t get the peer review function (or a certificate at the end), but I couldn’t justify the cost at the moment. I’ve been enjoying the courses and getting some useful writing instruction, though I have gotten a little behind on the assignments.
  • Made granola in the slow cooker. (The trick isn’t the recipe, but the method: You leave the lid askew so steam escapes in order to make the granola crispy.) Although it’s a pricey recipe (mostly because of the nuts), it’s still cheaper than prepackaged granola by a large margin — especially gluten-free granola. I use liquid agave sweetener instead of maple syrup to help keep the price down, too.
  • Made a large batch of gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough and froze 2/3 of it for later. Future Sarah is going to be pretty happy about that when she has a cookie craving again.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Used the Duolingo app to practice my French skills, and finally finished all of the lessons on it! I have found it to be an excellent free resource, and can proudly say that I read very well in French now, and understand about half of it when spoken. (Well…when spoken slowly. Heh.) I will need to find a more advanced resource to take my French learning further — especially my conversational skills — but I also think I will start learning Spanish on Duolingo now, too.
  • Bought three Colette sewing patterns with credits from my Seamwork account. Using credits made them basically free — or at least a tangible use of previously spent money — since the pattern credits come automatically with my monthly subscription and I don’t always use them.
  • Read 18 eBooks and one physical book from the library, and watched 2 library DVDs. (I am so glad that some of the library branches are open again!) I also read 6 free Kindle books. I finally analyzed my spending so far this year and found that I’ve been spending $30 – $35 a month on books (both electronic and physical), which was less than I expected…though it’s probably more than it could be. At least now I have a real figure to work with and improve upon in the future.

I plan to have my previously annual Halloween tea in October — something I haven’t managed the past two years. I can fail at everything else, but I’m holding my tea whether or not I even have guests! It’s my only goal for the month; anything else I accomplish will just be a bonus.

My list for August.

After days of rain, the sun peeked out for just a minute Tuesday evening. I have never been so happy to see the sun in my entire life. Though the city of Houston and its surrounding areas have a long, long road to recovery from the devastating flooding of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, I am very grateful to report that Lennox and I came through unscathed. We got a very small amount of water in our apartment during the worst of the deluge — literally just puddles — but they were from drainage issues, not floodwater, and they receded almost immediately. We have no damaged property (including our car), and were safe and relatively comfortable the entire time.

We lucked out.

We are making room in our September budget for some charitable giving for organizations helping with the aftermath of the storm.

August was a difficult month all around, though. My anxiety spiraled out of control again, and I have been having panic attacks almost every day. I had to start back into weekly therapy, which is a very large expense (we pay completely out of pocket as our insurance does not cover extended talk therapy). Our savings rate will be reduced to almost nothing until I can scale back to monthly sessions. Trust me when I say that this is disappointing on a lot of levels.

Anyway, in August I:

  • Refilled my dried parsley spice jar for $0.28. Herbs and spices from the bulk aisle are one of the best grocery bargains that exist.
  • Got a free sample of Kotex pads in the mail.
  • Used a Redbox discount code to rent a Blu-ray disc. I watched “The Fate of the Furious” for $0.81! That’s a LOT of over-the-top car chasing and a whole bunch of heavily muscled leading men for less than a buck.
  • Was actually able to use a coupon at Jo-Ann Fabrics (their coupon game is completely rigged, but that’s a whole other rant). I got 40% off a purchase of muslin that I would have gotten regardless, but it was nice to get a discount.
  • Only bought a few extra snack-type dry goods and three more gallons of water to augment what we already had on hand for our hurricane kit before Harvey hit. Panic buying and hoarding can be expensive.
  • Being in the middle of a natural disaster meant eating no take out, and mostly from the pantry. Not enough to compensate for lost income, but at this point probably anything that isn’t flood-related is a positive point.
  • Read 13 eBooks and 2 physical books from the library, and 2 free Kindle books. It was a slow reading month for me; I was mostly too anxious to concentrate.

I just hope my crazy ass has a more productive and less emotionally taxing September.

July has been a rough month.

Our cat had been sick for many months, but we had to have her put to sleep last week. So: July has been a rough month. Pet grief is a real thing, you guys. I can’t sleep, I’m depressed, and I’m having trouble feeding myself properly. To add insult to injury, we also got a terrible flea infestation in the last week and a half of her life (almost certainly from a neighboring apartment, as our cat had not been outside in many years, and had never had fleas — even when she came to us as a rescue). So she got to be itchy and miserable as well as in pain, because I didn’t dare use a chemical pesticide on her or in the house with her illness.

It was horrible.

Anyway, in July I:

  • Finally watched a movie I’d gotten for free from Google Play a long time ago. I had forgotten all about it — I sometimes watch TV episodes on the computer if there’s no other way to stream them, but very rarely watch movies that way — but our new Roku has a Google Play channel, and I noticed the movie in my library when I logged in.
  • Used money earned doing surveys to pay for both my Seamwork subscription and all my Patreon contributions this month. I almost never accumulate enough to pay for all of these, so this was particularly nice.
  • Started to transition back into eating more prepared foods instead of take out. Though more expensive (and likely less healthy, in many cases) than eating food made from scratch, it’s definitely less expensive (and healthier in most cases) than take out. I have to work within my limitations, and a marginal improvement is still an improvement.
  • Spent a very quiet 4th of July holiday. Cooked all meals at home, and went for a swim in one of the pools in our apartment complex.
  • Went to a free sneak preview for “Atomic Blonde” – 2 1/2 weeks before it opened. Look, I’m more than willing to pay for Charlize, but free Charlize is even better.
  • Had been reading a series on eBook from the library, but the next book was not available. This particular book was a re-release to eBook only (the physical book is out of print), and I didn’t want to pay full price for it. I found a used paperback on for $1.00, and even with shipping it was less than half the cost of the eBook. (File under hashtag #VoraciousReadingHabit.)
  • Snagged a 2018 Nature Conservancy calendar from the free pile at work. And it has lovely photos!
  • Got a free sample of flavored sparkling water from our grocery delivery service. It really hit the spot on a hot day. Kept me from buying a soda, in fact.
  • Restored all of the data (including all of my music files, how I had missed them!) from our old computer, and returned the external drive to our back up service on time, which refunded me the $99 I had paid to have the it delivered. Then I deleted the old computer’s license from the service, thereby halving our monthly back up service fee. Or, to be honest, returning the fee to its original single computer price. Still counts, I think — despite the procrastination. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Any progress is progress.
  • Spent an excellent afternoon visiting with E.K. and her partner when they visited from San Francisco. They brought snacks and I cooked lunch for them, and since they are probably the most frugal people I know it probably never occurred to them to demand a fancy, expensive outing. Now we need to carve some airfare out of the budget so we can go to the Bay Area and visit them.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Read 17 eBooks from the library, and 5 free books from Kindle.

That’s actually not a bad list for such a bad month. Here’s hoping for a much better August, at least emotionally, and that I can keep my frugal momentum going even in the face of my sadness.

My list for June.

This is probably not a comprehensive list, and — to be honest — I spent more than I intended to this month. I bought two pairs of shoes (on clearance, at least) as well as some fabric I definitely didn’t need, and we spent more on take out than I would like. Hopefully I will be too busy in July focusing on Camp Nanowrimo to spend a lot of money.

In June I:

  • Had a free Starbucks drink on my card.
  • Did an additional project for a client to bring in some extra income.
  • Replaced the streaming device on our bedroom TV. Using a combination of credit card points and a coupon, Lennox bought a new Roku for only $10! I have been watching a lot of PBS on there, which I had previously been watching on the laptop. Much more convenient! (The PBS channel is free, too.)
  • Spent a whopping $0.24 on bulk thyme to refill an empty spice jar. [Insert money bag emoji here.]
  • Had a free taco at Taco Bell with my Mom (they were free due to some sport-y thing again). We also got “happy hour” special iced teas for only $1 each. I do love a cheap outing.
  • Stocked up on inexpensive gluten free products at Aldi.
  • Had a free lunch at work to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday.
  • Had completely forgotten that I still had a small balance on a Google Play gift card I had gotten for Christmas, so I used that to buy a few eBooks this month.
  • Got a $5 Amazon card by taking a survey.
  • Read 2 physical books and 20 eBooks from the library, as well as 2 free Kindle books. I also watched 4 DVDs from the library this month.

I may finish another library book this evening, too. I read a lot, you guys. It’s a good thing the majority of my reading is free!

Apparently April was pretty distracting, too?

Um, I am not doing a very good job at keeping up with these posts. And this month I didn’t even do a very good job at keeping my list! I’d like to order the failure platter with a side of shame sauce, thanks.

Anyway, as far as I can tell I:

  1. Used my last birthday goodie from last month, a $5 off coupon at Jason’s Deli. (The potato soup is back! It’s my favorite thing there, but it’s seasonal.)
  2. Got a free jar of salsa, a free Larabar, and a free package of fancy Jell-O pudding mix at Kroger.
  3. Sewed a top using fabric scraps and fabric from a failed sewing experiment — and a free sewing pattern download. I even used a leftover piece of bias tape and thread I already had on hand. Although my time and labor certainly count for something, speaking only of supplies, I managed to make myself a free shirt.
  4. Read 17 free eBooks from the library, and one truly dreadful free book on my Kindle app. Seriously, I regretted it. Even though it was free. Ugh.

While we’re still keeping our failures in mind (I say “our” like I’m referring to myself in the royal “we,” I guess), I didn’t earn as much as usual this month, either — and wasn’t able to transfer anything extra from my income into savings. Perhaps I should add a slice of humble pie to my order above, too.

There’s always next month!