challenge update: may

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

the numbers

Rent $350.00 $3,530.00
Transportation $8.40 $29.40
Cell Phone/Internet $73.45 $370.13
Insurance $7.20 $36.00
Laundry $8.00 $22.16
Meals $183.63 $790.76
Snacks $20.98 $99.97
In Home Entertaining $0.00 $30.00
Supplies $42.71 $118.44
Equipment $55.27 $198.86
Grooming $88.62 $159.55
Books $0.00 $31.96
Coffee Shops $63.84 $176.38
Eating Out $64.03 $145.42
Magazines $0.00 $6.77
Movies $0.00 $39.15
Gifts $12.05 $138.64
Yoga $0.00 $92.47
Baby Shower $0.00 $419.12
Toronto Trips $0.00 $84.50
Blog/Writing $8.46 $47.93
Electronics $174.01 $183.04
Administration/Office Supplies $0.00 $20.77
Hobbies $0.00 $17.45
Clothing $107.34 $135.58
Courses/Lessons $0.00 $95.00
Giving Fund $13.04 $35.00
Travel $50.00 $50.00
TOTAL $1,331.03 $7,104.45

categories explained

Below are the new categories added this month. See past challenge updates for an explanation of the other categories.

Travel: Includes all expenses related to holidays and vacations.

observations and insights

Here are my thoughts on this month’s expenditures:

  • My rent has gone down, down, down. That’s because I’ve moved into a dorm room for the summer! I get a special rate on top of the already cheap rate because I’m Alumni. Even though I’m saving on rent, I had some additional expenses this month, so my monthly total was about average.
  • I live closer to Starbucks now. A lot closer. Like if I ran really fast, I could get there in about 88 seconds. I’ve also decided to live without refrigeration for the summer. Sometimes I need an iced beverage. A lot of times, I need an iced beverage. Prepare to see this expense remain higher during the summer, along with my eating out budget.
  • I bought a pair of Toms – my first pair! If you’re not familiar with the brand, for each pair you buy, one pair is donated to a child in need. I also bought another pair of shoes to replace a pair that were on their last leg. It seems that I only buy shoes when it comes to my wardrobe. I haven’t bought anything else since the start of year. Part of the reason is because I haven’t needed anything, the other reason I’ve written more about in the mind, body & spirit section below.
  • I spent a day at the movies and it cost me nothing. I finally used a gift card I received at Christmas from a friend. The theatre is a little out of the way, so I decided to make a day of it and watch two flicks with a snack in between.
  • I also spent a day in Toronto that didn’t cost me anything. I was running an errand for someone, and in exchange, I got all expenses paid. Sometimes it pays to not have a 9 to 5 job.
  • I replaced my iPhone 4 with an iPhone 5. I was having issues charging my phone and my contract was almost up. I negotiated a deal and was able to get the new phone while only having to pay a small cancellation fee. I knew I’d be getting a new phone this year, I just didn’t think it’d be so soon.
  • I signed up for a WWOOF Canada membership. Don’t get excited. This may not happen. I’m not really into hard labor, extreme heat or bugs, but I do want to learn about sustainable farming. I just need to find an organic farm that can accommodate my lack of upper arm strength, fainting spells and aversion to most wildlife. The membership lasts two years, so there’s hope.
  • I donated money again this month! And this time, it was for someone closer to home. A high school friend’s mother underwent a double lung transplant almost 4 years ago. Her dream is to compete in the World Transplant Games occurring in South Africa this summer. She’s been through a lot and I’m happy to support her goal. You can read more here. Please consider registering as an organ donor.
  • I finally thought to reconcile the amount of money I had at the start of the year with the amount of money I have now, taking into account any income I’ve received and expenses I’ve paid. I was off by $2.60. I decided to add that amount to this month’s Coffee Shops expense since that’s most likely where I forgot to record it. I’ll be reconciling monthly now to catch things sooner.

tips of the month

This month’s tips are beauty related.

  • Let the professionals do it. Once a season (or year) treat yourself to a pedicure, manicure, eyebrow shaping, etc. Then maintain the work of the professionals yourself at home for the rest of the time.
  • Pick your signature color. Each season (or year) pick your signature nail color, lipstick, eye shadow, etc. One color per category.
  • Find your lagom. Determine what your make-up lagom is and stick to it. Use up products before buying new ones (as long as they haven’t expired or cause you irritation).
  • Sharpen your razor blades. A reader named Jennifer emailed me about this. You can sharpen your razor blades on a pair of jeans (I use a patch cut from a pair of secondhand baby jeans). Also keep your razor out of the shower to make the blade last longer. Thanks for the tip Jennifer!

the living lagom part of the equation

Below is my own personal interpretation of how I’m living well on less.

books of the month

This month I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read it because it’s a classic and because the movie version was coming out this month. I enjoyed the book when I first read it, but I really liked it after I saw the movie. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that experience before. I think part of the reason was that I wasn’t fully conceptualizing what I was reading until I saw it on the big screen.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book were:

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” (Said by Jordan Baker to Nick Carraway)


“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” (Monologue by Nick Carraway)

My living well on less book this month was more about living on less than living well. I first heard of Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard from a review of it on Caitlin’s blog.

The premise of the book is that a young man with only $25 in his pocket, the clothes on his back and a gym bag will prove over the course of a year that it’s still possible to achieve the American Dream (or at least be on the road to achieving it). His definition of which is to have saved $2,500, a working car and a furnished apartment once the project was over.

I found the first part of the book fascinating when he was living in the homeless shelter. It’s a world that I’ve (fortunately) never been privy to and it was interesting to read what it’s like. Once he moves out of the shelter, I thought the story kind of lagged and a lot of the time, I felt like he was ranting. The key to Adam’s success was his work ethic. That boy worked his butt off! And kudos to him for having the courage to even try such an experiment. Though I think he and I have a different definition of the American (or rather Canadian) Dream.

I would borrow this book from the library if you’re interested in reading someone’s first hand experience (though not representative) of going from having nothing to something.

movies of the month

As mentioned above, I saw The Great Gatsby. The movie completely made the book come alive to me. I think it held true to the story with a couple of modern twists. And even though I knew Leonardo DiCaprio would be playing Jay Gatsby while reading the book, I feel like he was perfect for the role. Just perfect. Though I kind of want to see the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as Gatsby to see how he portrays him.

In the last few years, I’ve become interested in comic book flicks. Part of the reason is because one of my friend’s started his own comic, Kill Shakespeare. Now, I haven’t become a superfan – you won’t find me at a comic-con dressed as Catwoman – but I do like learning about the different characters and how they got their powers.

So this month, I also saw Iron Man 3. In preparation, I re-watched Iron Man and Iron Man 2. I probably should’ve also seen The Avengers since it was referenced and it took me a while to clue in. I have a not so slight crush on Robert Downey Jr. The man is funny. Like fun-ny. And I don’t think it’s just his character.

song of the month

I’ve added My Life by Billy Joel to my granny’s playlist. This song is quite fitting for me. I sometimes get questioned as to what the heck I’m doing with my own life. Most of the time it’s out of interest, but sometimes there’s a hint of judgment. As Billy sings it:

“I don’t need you to worry for me cause I’m alright. I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home. I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.“

Got it? Good.

mind, body & spirit

As mentioned, I moved into a dorm room for the summer so that I can save money and focus on my writing. I’m completing the exercises in The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watts. I’m so happy to finally (finally!) be on the road to completing a book idea I’ve had for more than 5 years!

In other news, I’ve been feeling . . . guilty. Guilty in terms of where the clothes that I purchase come from and the working conditions of those making them. The odd thing is, I tend to only feel this way about clothes. I don’t worry so much about the cheap rice cooker that I bought this month or how other items I buy are made (ahem – my new iPhone). Life is a learning curve.

I found this quote by Elizabeth Cline author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion in an article about the factory collapse in Bangladesh that sums up my (new) feelings:

“Sometimes it’s about how you shop and not where you shop. So if you buy something cheap that doesn’t mean that you have to have a disposable attitude to it . . . or a disposable relationship to it.”

I’m trying to be a more conscious consumer, but I still buy things sometimes that I know just can’t be ethically manufactured because they’re just so cheap. I’m moving towards buying more eco-friendly and secondhand items, but for the most part, I shop at regular retailers. The key for me, is that I don’t buy that many things in general (thank you minimalism). I also don’t have a disposable attitude towards the things I do buy. The oldest dress I own was purchased at Wal-Mart for $17. I’ve worn it almost every week, multiple times a week, for 3 years. And it still has a bit of life in it.

For those of us in transition, I think this helps elevate some of the guilt so that we can continue to make better and better choices, instead of feeling bad and thinking what’s the point if we can’t buy everything ethically at this very moment.

favorite experience of the month

I’ve been spending every weekend at my sister’s place having little sleepovers with Baby Buttercup. Don’t worry, my favorite experience of the month isn’t always going to be Buttercup related. Actually, it might. She’s that cute. But our little sleepovers are special. I’ve gotten to see her progress from a newborn who did nothing but sleep to an infant that tries to imitate the faces I make and is starting to laugh. Laugh! Plus, she likes my singing.

I know these sleepovers won’t last forever, so I’m enjoying them for the time being. It also means that I get to spend time with my other favorite girl, my sister. We played tennis for the first time in probably five years! When we were kids, we used to play tennis all the time. I’ve really missed it. Of course, she won. She always wins. I kind of like it that way. Hopefully, we’ll get to play again soon.

That was May. Over and out.