April’s dismal list of frugal failures.

Frugality is the mother of the virtues.

If, as this motto I spotted on an old bank building in downtown Houston claims, “Frugality is the mother of the virtues,” I have shamed my metaphorical mother terribly this month. For one thing, though I cringe to admit it, I spent nearly $100 on books in April. I bought a bunch of fabric I didn’t need, too, and all of that on top of dental fillings. Yes, I knew about the fillings — it wasn’t an emergency — but I usually cut back on the month of a dental procedure to help even out the cost. But not this month! Nope. I decided to spend like a crazy person.

And even though I actually am a crazy person…that’s not an excuse.

I went overboard on a lot of stuff this month, but I did do some of my regular things. In April I:

  • Bought a big haul of 50% off Easter candy at Kroger — though we were so late there were no standard Peeps left! I consoled myself with more exotic Peeps (the pancake flavored Peeps are strangely tasty, it turns out) and some Hershey’s Kisses with tie-dye wrappers. I have no idea what the tie-dye had to do with Easter, but hey — they will be groovy whenever we’re ready to eat them. (They’re currently in the freezer.)
  • Finished our tax return before we had to file an extension. Though we always aim to break even (and almost did this year), our small refund has already been direct deposited into our account and transferred into savings.
  • Downloaded and altered free clip art from Graphics Fairy to use in my newsletter and here on my blog.
  • Redeemed a $3 Walgreens reward on some make-up that was also on sale (and on my list).
  • Downloaded Kate Bush’s “The Red Shoes” album from the Houston Public Library via Freegal. I borrowed this on cassette when it was brand new and only liked two songs on it, so I didn’t buy my own copy at the time. I thought I would give it another shot, and I loved it. It was just too sad and difficult for my teenage self to enjoy, but my sad and difficult middle-aged self found a lot more to appreciate in it.
  • Read 23 ebooks and 4 physical books from the library…though that certainly didn’t cancel out my book-based spending spree.

Next month I hope to rein in my personal spending again. Hope springs eternal, et cetera. (Sigh.)

March list.

Never skip your flu shot.

I was completely out of commission for two weeks in March, thanks to an unseasonably late case of the flu. (It was the influenza “B” strain if you’re keeping score.) Poor Lennox got it, too. We were a mess, and we’re both still coughing and very fatigued. I spent my birthday flat on my back with a fever of 101F, so my tea party was of course canceled. I missed two weeks of work, too; it was a less-than-fabulous birthday month all around.

Although I sign up for pretty much any retailer’s e-mail list that will give me some form of birthday coupon, I was only able to take advantage of about half of the ones I got this year — mostly because I was too sick to leave the house. I do wait to shop with several retailers until their coupons come in and rarely make purchases just because I have a coupon, so at least I only spend money I plan to spend. It’s not an excuse for a spending orgy, is what I mean to say! Heh.

Anyway, despite my mostly-wasted month, in March I:

  • Paid for all but one of my Patreon pledges using money earned taking surveys.
  • Was given a packet of feminine hygiene products by a relative who got the wrong kind. They were the exact sort I prefer, except that I normally use the store brand knock-off! (She whispers: “Gonna have a plush, name brand period!”)
  • Got to enjoy the Blu-ray of “Thor: Ragnarok” that Lennox bought for only $3 using a combination of coupons and Best Buy gift certificates from his credit card points. (That man is a hell of a bargain shopper!)
  • Used a $10 off any purchase coupon (for my birthday) to reduce the cost of a couple of bras at Torrid. They were also on sale.
  • Used a $15 off any purchase coupon (again, for my birthday) to purchase a comforter insert at IKEA. We needed to replace our old one, and the coupon made it half price.
  • Used a code (yet another birthday coupon) to get a free Red Box rental.
  • Used one last birthday coupon to get 20% off at Jo-Ann Fabric. Unlike their regular coupons, this one worked on both regular and sale price items. That almost never happens! I only bought things on my list — thread, elastic, and 3/4 yard quilting cotton to make floral bias tape — but I saved $4.95 with my coupon.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card — but was too sick to redeem my free birthday drink before it expired! Oh, well. Better luck next year, I suppose.
  • Read 21 ebooks and 5 physical books from the library. I also read one free Kindle book…but then spent $44.85 on other books (good heavens), so like…still not a great month for the old book budget.

I definitely spent too much in March, both personally and for the household. A lot of the household expenditures were unavoidable due to our illnesses (we ordered lots of take-out while we were both too ill to cook), and though I’m grateful that we have the wiggle room in our budget to do this when things are difficult, I hope we’ll do a little better in April.

Next month I hope to get some sewing done; I intend to make a few things for myself for Me Made May and a pair of wild leggings for my Mom for her birthday. I’ll also be participating in Camp Nanowrimo, so I hope to make decent progress on my current novel. (I have been doing well there, at least! I’ve been writing steadily every single day, except for the first week of that terrible flu.) I also plan to finish our personal tax return before the deadline in April. I haven’t had to take out an extension in over ten years, and I mean to keep my streak intact! I know this seems like a lot — okay, it is a lot — but I know I can do it…if I can stay healthy. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

February list.

Pollen's comin', yo!

Actually, the pollen is already here — it’s just nowhere near its peak yet. Allergies are the worst. Ugh.

Here’s a short list for a short month. In February I:

  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Did my shopping at Sprouts one week instead of ordering groceries from Instacart. Not only were grocery prices lower there — I also avoided paying a service charge or tip. Although I love the convenience of Instacart (and the way it frees up my energy for other activities), I can’t deny that it’s an expensive choice.
  • Got a free Clif Bar for Lennox at Kroger, and a box of store brand cereal for only $1 with a coupon.
  • Found a gravy boat on clearance for $3.49. I’ve been looking for one for a long time, as we usually host Thanksgiving dinner for my family, and this was exactly the sort I wanted.
  • Realized I had an overabundance of canned pumpkin in the pantry, so I made pumpkin muffins — and will make some pumpkin spice cookies soon, too.
  • Managed to stay close to my $15.00 ebook spending goal. I was on target to spend far less than the $15 I’d allotted (I was looking at a record low, in fact), but had forgotten a full-price Kindle book I had pre-ordered! Whoops. My actual total spending was $15.07 for the month. However, $2.15 of that was a gift for my Mom, so it technically came from our gift budget. Still, a 7 cent overage is pretty danged good even counting my oversight and a gift!
  • Read 26 eBooks from the library, and watched one library DVD.

I did fail on one front, though. I purchased 2 1/2 yards of fabric to replace some yardage used in a botched sewing project. (It was the same fabric, right down to the color. I plan to try again using a better sewing pattern.)

Next month I will hopefully have lots of birthday freebies to cash in, and several useful birthday coupons, too. Keep your fingers crossed that the oak pollen doesn’t do me in before I can use them all!

January list.

January is always the worst month for bookkeepers, and this month was especially trying. I may be wiped out for weeks to come, but I made it — and only had to extend one set of 1099s.

In January, I:

  • Paid for my Seamwork subscription and one Patreon donation with money earned doing surveys.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Gave myself a haircut using an online tutorial, saving time and a little bit of money. (It looks perfectly fine, too.)
  • Took advantage of a one-day-only coupon to stock up on $0.99 shredded cheese at Kroger. Also got a free Lara bar with a coupon on my card.
  • Organized our tiny above-the-refrigerator freezer. It was such chaos in there — it doesn’t even have a shelf and the ice maker takes up about 1/3 of the interior space — that I found duplicate cheese purchases and several badly freezer-burned items. By adding stacking containers I’ll be able to save money by keeping better track of its inventory and avoiding purchasing duplicates again. As a bonus, I’ll be able to remove needed items without causing an avalanche. Win-win.
  • Renewed our annual membership to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Though this is pricey, we more than get our money’s worth in free or reduced admissions. Our dual membership costs $80, but admission for both of us to just one traveling exhibit would be $40 or $50 dollars without it — and we go to about four exhibits a year, not to mention our other visits to the museum. This really is a case of “spending money to save money,” and we also feel good about supporting the MFAH.
  • Ran an errand further from home than usual, so took the opportunity to stock up on gluten-free items at a nearby Aldi.
  • Used a free shipping credit for an online fabric purchase. (It had laser cats on it. Laser cats. I wasn’t going to pass that up!)
  • I reconnected my FitBit to my Walgreens Rewards account to earn discounts more quickly.
  • We bought discount gift cards at Costco for a restaurant we like. It seems weird to buy gift cards for personal use, but it’s an easy way to save a little bit. I mean, if you’re going to eat take out you may as well pay less, right?
  • Swapped an Olive Garden gift card I’d gotten for Christmas for an Amazon gift card. I guess this is the modern-day equivalent of exchanging a sweater at the mall.
  • Got a free tomato soup and a free sample of artificial sweetener from Instacart.
  • Read 14 ebooks and 3 physical books from the library, but spent $51.09 on other books. Ouch! Surely I can do better than that next month.

My primary goal for February is simply to rest up, but I also plan to refrain from purchasing any fabric (with or without laser cats) and to keep book purchases under $15 to make up for January’s extravagance. Wish me luck!

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.