Click play on the soundtrack now and sing the money blues with me.
I’m totally itching to unleash my usual rant: how I don’t understand money, how it’s not real, how violent it is, how an alternative medium for economic life is not only possible but preferable… BUT I’d rather not come off as the kooky radical today so I’ll stick to reality. Reality being:
Money rules our lives.
Don’t argue with me on this: it does. This fact is most apparent when money is less than abundant. And so, since this blog is in large part about creative living, I’d like to tackle the whole money thing. Choreographing your cash flow is one of the most creative parts of life, because it requires a lot of courage, imagination, and dedication.
Making do with what you got
is the bread + [vegan] butter of creativity.
Last month, I saw my expenses soar + income plummet. Yayyy. So, on February 1, I instituted my first “rule” of money management.
Rule #1: No eating out.
And by no eating out, I mean no eating out. No snacks, no Starbucks, nada.
Origin story: This rule arose out of necessity last year when I first moved to San Francisco. It was a grand success, not only empowering me to survive a precarious month of funemployment in the nation’s most expensive city but also reacquainting me with the joy of cooking.
Why a “rule”? I know rules don’t work for the rebellious among us; they are just begging to be broken, no? But I encourage you to think about rules in a new way, not as restriction but as liberation. A firm rule frees you from the anxiety of choice or the stress of willpower. It reinforces your personal intentions (not external pressures) + facilitates your goals. So when I pass a yummy (a.k.a. pricey) food spot on the street, I don’t have to decide in the moment whether or not I will go in. I don’t have to force myself to choose “no;” I don’t have to wrestle with guilt should I choose “yes.” My rule already made the decision for me, so I don’t even have to think about it. When a certain option is off the table, I can relax and proceed with the option that is.
However, there are 3 exceptions to this particular rule:
1. Someone else gets the check ;)
*You know who you are… thank you!!!
2. The cost of a meal eaten out is comparable in price to a meal eaten at home (a.k.a. under $4)
*I intend to keep these purchases to a minimum, or buy fewer groceries when I anticipate an abnormally frantic week with less time available for meal prep
3. I’m really, really desperate.
*Obviously I do everything I can to avoid this, but I believe in anticipating + allowing for the possibility of “slip-up’s” (I had my first + only one so far this past weekend: a burrito at a taqueria in Truckee. So worth it.)
So yeah, I’ve been doing really great so far otherwise! Along the way, I’ve discovered a few things that make a restaurant/cafe/drive-thru/Whole Foods salad bar-free life more satisfying and even FUN:
- Get excited about your challenge. Turn it into a mental game: think of the dollar amount you’re saving every time you pack lunch, or even keep a running tally of these “points.” Some may call this mildly obsessive; I call it pretty darn fun.
- Cement your rule + let your self-esteem bloom when you stick to it! It’s really empowering to do what you set out to do!
- Carve out time for food prep. And really, it doesn’t require that much time. But if you don’t make the time, you won’t make the meal.Pumpkin chocolate chip oat bars with cashew agave glaze
(inspired by this recipe) 45 min to bake = breakfast + snacks for days!
- Buy groceries with pleasure in mind. Yes, pleasure! That’s mostly what we seek from a restaurant, so you need to satisfy that urge at home if you intend to sustainably avoid pricey meals out. It can be tempting to only buy “healthy” or “good” groceries — don’t do it! Take home a full range of foods to fit your every mood. That means salad mood and ice cream sundae mood. Stock up on chocolate. This will never prove to be a bad call.
- Recreate the restaurant experience at home. Use fancy spices. Keep feel-good condiments in your fridge. Think of the one thing (or things) you will always order off a menu — mine are mac’n’cheese, pizza, burrito, chips + salsa/guac, and any version of a hummus plate. Then make sure you have the ingredients handy so you can make these things at home :)Mac’n’cheese (dairy-free) with sun dried tomatoes + kale… modeled after Homeroom
- Two words: slow cooker.
- One word: Tupperware.
Well, I’ve officially told you everything I know about eating in! What’s my bottom line, you ask?
Challenge results, 3 weeks in:
Spending: According to my Wells Fargo spending report, I spent $258.83 at restaurants in January (pre-rule) + only $6.53 in February so far (that was the burrito). For the skeptics out there: NO, my grocery spending did not increase to compensate for this. In fact, it decreased… a lot (stay tuned for another post on that).
Eating: I’ve gotten back into the groove in my kitchen, and I’ve cooked some baller food. New fave food blogs: Oh She Glows + Budget Bytes.
Mindset: I pay more attention to my spending; this feels freeing + empowering, because I know I won’t have as many gut-wrenching reckonings with my bank statement at the end of the month.
1. At first, it was really scary to be conscious of my spending. When it comes to financial matters, ignorance really is bliss. Until you overdraw from your account, that is. If you have the courage to face your finances, you can heal your insecurity + transform your habits.
2. I may not be in control of how much money I make. I may not be in control of surprise expenses (e.g. emergency room bills, car repairs). But I am in control of my day-to-day spending habits!
3. Revelation: Creativity is abundance. When you dare to think about something (like money) differently, you create something that didn’t exist before. You get more than you started with, without earning a single penny more.
Stay tuned for more creative ways to live happier + freer + cheaper :)
PS: I tentatively promise to take better pics of my food next time :P