challenge update: january

This is a monthly update on a personal challenge I set for myself in 2013. My goal: living lagom on $20,000 a year. Please note that these posts will be loooong.

Here’s the first update of the year!

the numbers

Rent $795.00
Transportation $8.40
Cell Phone/Internet $74.13
Insurance $7.20
Laundry $14.16
Meals $138.69
Snacks $27.98
In Home Entertaining* $8.00
Supplies $37.58
Equipment $100.76
Grooming $12.38
Coffee Shops $6.15
Magazines $6.77
Movies $5.15
Gifts $36.28
Classes $75.53
Equipment $16.94
Baby Shower $175.60
TOTAL $1,546.70

* Estimated portion of meals amount.

categories explained

I’m not going to go through all the categories every month. I’ll just update you on any new additions.

Rent: Includes rent for a four month sublet in a furnished bachelor apartment with some kitchen items. My rent includes utilities, cable (uh-oh), Internet and laundry. This is not the cheapest sublet, but I like it.

Transportation: I took the bus a few times this month. The rest of the time I walked or got a ride with my sister. We generally run errands on Saturdays, as well as go to the farmers market together. I asked her if she wanted gas money, but she said she’d rather I babysit once the baby arrives. Bartering at its best.

Cell Phone/Internet: I have an iPhone, so this includes voice, text and data plan. The data plan comes in handy when I’m out and about. I also can’t guarantee that I’ll have Internet included at my next apartment.

Insurance: Even though I don’t have dependents, I have life insurance. Why? Because I’ve learned from personal experience that having some insurance to handle a decease’s final affairs helps those managing their estate. I like term insurance. Full stop.

Laundry: I used the coin-operated laundry machines at my sister’s apartment before I moved out and I bought laundry detergent. This category would also include any dry cleaning that I do, which I normally don’t.

Groceries: Includes all meals, snacks and entertaining that take place at home. I received a $20 gift card for a gourmet food store for Christmas. This amount was not recorded in the total for Groceries, as gifts are exempt.

Household: Includes kitchen and bathroom supplies, as well as any equipment I purchase. I had to buy a kettle, glass food containers and a few other items when I moved into my new place.

Grooming: Includes any hair and beauty products, as well as haircuts.

Entertainment: Includes books, coffee shops, eating out, movies, music, etc. I received $40 worth of Starbucks gift cards for Christmas . . . that’s why that number is so low. I also have a movie gift card for $25 that I haven’t used as of yet.

Gifts: Includes any gifts that I buy throughout the year. I’m throwing my sister a baby shower, so that’s her main gift, but I’m also making something for the baby.

Yoga: I decided to take yoga through a community program. The cost includes 12 classes.

Baby Shower: I had to rent a church hall for my sister’s baby shower as quite a few ladies are attending. The shower is next month, so there will be added expenditures such as food, drinks, decorations, etc. Even though I’m a minimalist, those in attendance are not.

observations and insights

The mantra for Your Money or Your Life when recording your expenses is: no shame, no blame. You’re just confronting the truth about the choices you’ve made in your life. So with that in mind, here’s what I learned this month:

  • I feel like I spend a lot of money on food. I did move into a new place, so I had to stock up on some basics. However, if I include the gift card I received at Christmas, I spent nearly $200, with almost 15 percent of that going towards snacks. Snacks! I have an idea on how to address this, that I’ll share with you in a future post. I didn’t eat out all month, which could also explain the higher food amount.
  • That being said, eating an (overall) healthy diet is important to me. There aren’t many coupons out there for broccoli and I’m not really a coupon clipper. Plus, I like to try to buy organic products when I can, especially if they’re on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen. Some things are non-negotiable.
  • I sure like Starbucks . . . but we already knew that. It will be interesting to see what this amount will be next month, since I no longer have the gift cards to rely on.
  • I bought a magazine. Magazines are an old gazingus pin** of mine. I bought it because one article caught my eye. Instead of making sure I would want to read the rest of it, I just grabbed it. I find this happens a lot with magazines. There’s usually just one or two items that you want to read, but you get suckered into buying the whole thing. Next time, I’ll read the article on the spot or on my next visit to the library. I do subscribe to MoneySense magazine. I don’t pay for my subscription, as I redeemed Air Miles to get it.
  • Another gazingus pin of mine appears to be reusable coffee tumblers. (I get the irony.) At first, I wasn’t going to mention buying a new one. But I need to be true to myself in this challenge. I didn’t need a new tumbler. I just wanted one. I did take a few days to think about it before I purchased it, but it was definitely an indulgent purchase. I will donate my other one.
  • I didn’t buy any clothes this month. Not a stitch.
  • I also didn’t give any money to charity. I generally spend my 1 percent charity fund closer to the end of the year. I will update this category with any donations made before then. I’m thinking a part of my fund should go towards my local library as I’ve been relying on it heavily for books and movies.
  • Even though my numbers are unique to me, there may be some similarities with your own budget. For example, you may not be hosting a baby shower, but perhaps you throw a monthly dinner party or need to plan three kiddie birthday parties a year.
  • I wouldn’t say tracking my expenses is fun per se, but it has been very eye-opening. I probably should’ve done a bit of a pre-track before announcing to the world my challenge. But overall, it looks like I’m still on the road to meeting my goal. Though every month is different. Time (and the numbers) will indeed tell.

** Gazingus pin is any item that you have a hard time passing by without buying.

tips of the month

This month’s tips are food-related. Even though I feel I spent a lot on food, it would’ve been worse if I hadn’t followed the below:

  • Cook all your own meals for one month. No eating out. Just one month.
  • Pack a lunch! I don’t mean just for work, but on weekends too. Once I get into the car with my sister on our weekly errands run, I have no idea when I’ll get back home. My sister is the queen of detours. So all month long, I packed some food whenever we went out, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to buy something while on the go.

the living lagom part of the equation

Now that we’ve looked at the numbers, it’s time to measure if I was really living lagom. Wait a minute . . . you can’t measure that! I know. So you’ll have to settle for my own personal interpretation of living well on less.

books of the month

I love books! But I noticed that I’d been mostly reading non-fiction. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last novel that I’d read. (Lies. It was Fifty Shades of Grey.) So I’ve decided that each month, I’ll read a book of fiction that intrigues me. First up: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

What an amazing book! Parts of it seemed vaguely familiar, so I may have read this in high school. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it or if you haven’t read it in a long time, it’s worth revisiting.

My takeaway is that I would rather live in an imperfect world with meaning, than a “perfect” world without any. And that I’d definitely be sent to an island.

I’ll also be reading a book each month on living well on less. This month I read, Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker. Lorilee wanted to learn how she could apply some of the money savvy of the Amish into her own family’s life. I too find the Amish intriguing, so I enjoyed getting a little peek into their lives.

The main tips I took away from this book are: you don’t have to buy something new to buy something good, limit gifts to children, wear things out or find a different use for them and you can get cheaper food by buying directly from farmers.

movies of the month

I also love movies (almost as much as books). I only went to the theatre once this month. I saw Les Misérables. I liked it very much and sang all the way home.

I borrowed many more movies from the local library. I particularly enjoyed the movie Anonymous. I was never really into Shakespeare in high school, but then my friend co-created a comic entitled, Kill Shakespeare, and now I find him very fascinating indeed. Plus, I love a good conspiracy theory.

Other worthy mentions include Inside Job, a documentary about what really happened in the lead up and aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis. As well as, We Need To Talk About Kevin. A very disturbing film, especially in light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

song of the month

All the music that I own is digital. My grandmother gave me $20 for Christmas (the kid is on a budget too). I decided to put the money onto my iTunes account. Each month this year, I’ll pick a song and think of my granny. She might even get her own playlist.

For January, I’ve selected My Way by Frank Sinatra. I think she’d be happy with my Ol’ Blue Eyes selection, since she’s missing her own Ol’ Blue Eyes. However, she may not appreciate my future choices . . .

mind, body & spirit

Each morning after I wake-up, I like to do some affirmations. It’s a excellent way to start the day on a positive note. I made some of them up myself and borrowed some from other people. I also do a nightly prayer to give thanks for all that I have.

I signed up for yoga. I thought it was time to upgrade from the fake yoga moves I’ve been doing and get the basics down. I’m taking classes through a community program. It’s very low-key (read: no lululemon), which is great because when I tried taking classes at larger studios, I felt a little intimidated. Plus, the teacher is really friendly and practically a pretzel.

I also did a lot of walking, including walking through a local park on the weekends. It’s refreshing to be out in nature, even if it’s frozen.

And finally, I wrote. Definitely good for the spirit.

favorite experience of the month

I had my friend Pam over for lunch at my new place. I can’t count the number of times she’s made me meals and the most delicious cappuccinos. So I finally got my chance to treat her. I recreated a vegan sandwich we had at a restaurant once, with mango and dark chocolate for dessert. Hopefully, this can become a regular experience.


I wasn’t kidding. These posts will be looong. While I hope you get something out of reading my updates, I’m also writing them for myself to see what kind of progress I make over the course of the year.

One month down . . . eleven to go!

20 thoughts on “challenge update: january

  1. Janice Byrne

    You’re inspiring me. You’re educating me; i.e., I’ve learned the new word “lagom”. This first monthly, detailed post of your’s on your 2013 living on $20k project was not too long for me. Keep them coming. As a (now retired) librarian, I know the value you’re finding at your local library for movies and books and so much more. Check into their free downloadable content if you have/use an e-reader or tablet. Check for any programs, usually free, there also that might be of interest to you. Mine, for example, has a series of “gentle” yoga that is calling to me as I keep that lovely new-to-me word ‘lagom’ in my mind this bright new year. Thank you for your online sharing.

  2. A

    Also count me among the inspired! This is really fascinating.

    Now, regarding food, I would love to see a post on that. To me, $138 on meals for a *month* is astonishingly low, and I would be amazed if I could ever see that happening in my world – I spend about that every two weeks, I eat a plant based diet all the time, and pack my lunch at least 4 days a week. No Starbucks for me – I tote my own tea in a thermos.

    That said, maybe $138 is unreasonably low when you return to your normal eating habits, rather than a lot. I guess only time will tell!

  3. living lagom Post author

    Aww, thanks Janice! I actually went to a free seminar at the library to learn about their eBook system. I got Brave New World in paperback, but February’s book is in eBook format. They have a number of “always available” eBooks that tend to be classics. I love the library!

  4. Carolyn

    Magazines have been a problem for me, too. I’m getting better. I recently almost bought one for one particular article, and when I got home found the same article on the magazine’s on-line version. The “public” one; I don’t have a subscription, obviously. One less magazine cluttering up the place!

    I agree — an interesting post, not too long.

    P. S. I read recently on my Swedish language blog that some Swedish young people move abroad because they find Sweden too “lagom” — they want more, different, adventure! It did say they tend to return to raise their families, though.

  5. living lagom Post author

    I guess I thought it was a lot because when I googled how much a single person on a budget should spend on food, I kept seeing numbers like $100-$120 a month.

    I actually spent closer to $200 if you take into consideration meals, snacks, at home entertaining AND the $20 gourmet food store gift card I got for Christmas that was exempt.

    My biggest savings on food comes from going to the farmers market. My sister and I split stuff up (and share the cost). Plus, I buy my grains and seeds in bulk, where you select the amount you want.

    I’m notorious for spending lots of money on food – especially when I’m working. I would buy my lunch all the time and averaged $10-$15 a day! Shocking.

    I think you’re right, it’ll be interesting to see what the total is now that I’m not eating an exclusive plant-based diet…and eating out again. Time will indeed tell.

  6. living lagom Post author

    Another good option for magazine addicts! And if it’s an article you want to reference in the future, you can save the link or use CutePDF without worrying about keeping paper clutter around.

    I did read that lagom is not always seen positively by Swedes, as it’s just middle of the road, nothing too extreme on either side.

    But my interpretation of it is more about balance applied to the individual, not necessarily to the group.

  7. livingsimplyfree

    When people hear the number $20,000 they think that is so little today, but when you break it down it feels more doable, I actually live on less than that and find it easy to do so, but the main key for me was in finding less expensive housing which tends to take up most of a person/family budget. You seem to be right on track for living below that number. Good luck I look forward to more.

  8. ily

    I read “Your Money or Your Life” a couple years ago, and while I never followed the full plan, some of the concepts really stuck with me…especially the one about factoring in work-related “decompressing”/”treating yourself” expenses to your salary. For a long time I’ve felt like I spent too much on food, but then again…I don’t know how much I spend. Since it’s the beginning of the month you’ve inspired me to keep track. It might be annoying to do, but that’s probably better than forever worrying about it in the back of my mind. My hypothesis is that it’s actually not as much as I think. Like you said, healthy organic produce can be expensive, but I am always hearing, “a vegan diet can be so much cheaper!” I might also have totally unrealistic ideas of how little I can spend and still buy somewhat healthy stuff.

  9. living lagom Post author

    Yay for tracking! I know it’s not the most exciting thing, but it’s proving to be so valuable. Plus, it helps you make sure you eat all the food you already have at home, so you don’t have to add another line item.

    Please tell us how it went in next month’s challenge update!

  10. Karen T.

    I enjoyed your post. I’m married and we have one daughter still in college, so $20,000/yr seems like a tiny amount to live on, but the concepts of tracking expenses and setting boundaries on spending are very valuable. And controlling the Starbucks addiction is something I need to do as well!
    I’m so glad you mentioned the value that the public library has in your life. I’m a school librarian, and I also love using our city library. I’m especially thankful for the interlibrary loan system. Do you have that in Canada? I’m able to get just about anything I want to read using interlibrary loans.

  11. living lagom Post author

    We do have an interlibrary loan system within regions. I had more selection when I lived in Toronto versus living in a smaller city. But I still have a plethora of books, movies and magazines to choose from.

    I’ve been a fully-fledged library cardholder since I was in the fourth grade when I discovered the magical world of books. Before then, I was more interested in playing and struggled with reading. No matter what anyone’s financial situation, having access to a library makes you feel rich.

  12. Candice

    You can buy some magazines with Airmiles! Or if you have a Roger’s account you can buy them for really cheap through them.

    Also, have you heard of yogaglo? Its an online website with unlimited yoga classes for 17$ per month. I love it.

  13. living lagom Post author

    Thanks for the tips Candice! I actually get my MoneySense magazine through Air Miles. I used to get some other magazines when I was with Rogers, but now I don’t subscribe to cable (it’s free at my current sublet).

    When I used to subscribe to more magazines, I would get behind in reading them and they would pile up. I only get one magazine now that I read from cover to cover. It’s not always about the actual cost of something, but the time cost as well. And I’ve felt let down by the content of some fashion and lifestyle magazines that I used to read.

    That yoga site sounds interesting!

  14. ellenscottgrable

    I love your challenge! I am an old fan of Your Money or Your Life and give copies of this book often. I must say that by your very low rent you clearly don’t live in Southern California, same for bus fare! Not having a car is nearly impossible here too! The library is a great resource as is Craigslist especially the free section. People here often post ads to pick up excess fruit from their trees. I will be following along and wish you well in your quest.

  15. living lagom Post author

    Thanks Ellen! I live in a university town in Canada. I’m sure there has to be someone living in Southern California who pays less rent than I do. I chose my sublet based on its location to amenities. That’s how I’ve kept my transportation costs so low too. Some would say that you have to have a car in the city where I live now, but I think there’s always ways around that. Or I’d pick a new city. :)

  16. ellenscottgrable

    Yes there may be studios in da’ hood lower than your rent : ) and yes we have a trolley system and buses but they are expensive and limited in range. Picking another city would involve other compromises though such as less than paradise weather where we never need heat and have our beaches.

    Thanks for responding and I look forward to your next update!

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