challenge update: december and final thoughts

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 $400.00 $6,180.32
Transportation $6.90 $52.20
Cell Phone/Internet $73.45 $885.92
Insurance $7.20 $86.40
Laundry $4.00 $109.36
Groceries $84.19 $1,818.60
Household $11.28 $561.42
Grooming $36.94 $425.04
Entertainment $55.52 $920.75
Gifts $79.18 $372.03
Yoga $0.00 $92.47
Baby Shower $0.00 $419.12
Blog/Writing $0.00 $190.01
Electronics $0.00 $220.05
Administration/Office Supplies $0.00 $33.45
Hobbies $0.00 $23.52
Clothing $0.00 $397.27
Courses/Lessons $0.00 $95.00
Giving Fund $100.07 $151.07
Travel $97.78 $750.68
Medical/Dental $0.00 $278.39
TOTAL $956.51 $14,063.07

categories explained

There were no new categories added this month. See past challenge updates for an explanation of the previous categories.

observations and insights

Here are my thoughts on this month’s expenditures:

  • I was able to spend less than $1,000 in my final month, even with the holidays! That makes 5 months that I spent less than a grand. I never thought I’d be able to say that when I first started this challenge.
  • Including what I spent in November, my budget for holiday gifts was just over $100. I’ve really cut down on the number of people I buy presents for. I try to purchase items I think the other person will enjoy, without going crazy. I don’t believe that spending more money on a gift equals loving someone more.
  • I went to Toronto for the weekend mid-month. I stayed with a friend and treated her to a movie as a “thank you.”
  • I spent the rest of my giving fund! I wrote all about it here.

tips of the month

Here are this month’s tips:

  • Track your expenses. You can keep track in a notebook or a computer spreadsheet or by starting a blog and letting the whole world know that you spend too much money on lattes! Either way, the information you get will be invaluable.
  • If you really want something, buy it. Say what?! Seriously. If there’s something that you really want and you can’t get it out of your mind after thinking about it and thinking about it – buy it. Find a way to work it into your budget. Now if you want something every day . . . maybe you shouldn’t be so free with your love.
  • Delay purchases. Umm, didn’t I just say to buy something if you really want it? Yes, but give yourself a bit of a waiting period. Whether that be 48 hours or a week or what have you. I found that when I made spontaneous purchases, they didn’t turn out to be good buys.

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

I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott this month. It was the perfect book to read by my imaginary fireplace during the holidays. I’ve seen the 1994 version of the movie many, many times, but this was my first time reading the novel. I think the movie stayed pretty true to the book, but the book was far, far richer.

I think there’s a little bit of the characters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy in all of us. Though, I did identify most with Jo’s need for freedom and wanting to be a writer, as well as her mini-breakdown after cutting her hair. I also identified with the youngest sister, Amy’s selfishness and her dislike of her nose. And it reminded me of how lucky I am to have a sister!

For my final living well on less book, I chose the book that inspired this whole challenge: Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin, and Monique Tilford.

I’m really glad I reread this book. I probably should have reread it sooner. I think I would’ve gotten a lot out of asking myself on a monthly basis if I was spending my money in alignment with my values and life purpose. Oh well, I can start now.

I had also forgotten about the wall chart described in the book. I’d like to create my own. I know that the authors say that it should be in physical form, but mine will be electronic.

An interesting thing I noted this time around was that the peak of the fulfillment curve described in the book, where we have “just enough,” is really lagom. I never made that connection before.

The key message of this book is realizing that how we spend our money, is how we spend our life energy. And since we have limited time on this planet, it’s important that we get it right.

movies of the month

I went to the theatre twice this month. I had one final free movie pass to use that I won back in February when I went to see Battle Royale. I used one of the passes to watch Fight Club in July and I used the last one to see Die Hard this month. I guess it’s true that violence begets violence begets violence. However, I’ve always felt that Die Hard was a rather Christmas-y movie. I’m sure there’s a lesson in it somewhere and not just that “Yippee-ki-yay” line. It’s really about the little guy taking on the big boys.

I also saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. While I thought it was pretty good, I preferred the first one. I haven’t read the books yet, but it felt like they missed something from it in the movie. Or like they were trying to cover too much in the allotted time. Honestly, it felt really long without much happening. I’m hoping to read all the books before seeing the final film.

On a less violent note, I watched my favorite holiday movie: White Christmas. I love all the singing and dancing and all the snow! snow! snow! My sister and I like to sing the song, Sisters. A lot. Which brings me too . . .

song of the month

I’m wrapping up my granny’s 2013 playlist with a song that reminds me of my favorite person (well, she’s tied for first now): Sisters from the movie, White Christmas.

We like to spontaneously break out into this song quite a bit, but we always mess up the lyrics. Now I can be the annoying younger sister and say, “You’re singing it wrong!” Ah, sisters . . .

mind, body & spirit

I find that December is a good time to reflect on the past year, in between all the holiday craziness.

It’s been a good year. I wish I had gotten more done, but at the same time, I’ve made greater progress in certain areas than I’ve ever made in the past.

favorite experience of the month

My favorite experience was spending time with my loved ones. From Cunha Cousins Christmas to Eve’s Holiday Extravaganza to Baby Buttercup’s First Christmas to Dinner at the Patterson-Houston’s and everything in between. It was a December to remember!

Final month completed! Mission accomplished!

final thoughts

Here are some final observations and insights from this year of living on $14,063.07.

  • My initial budget didn’t end up looking anything like my final budget. I’m glad I had it as a guide post, but the key was just to be conscious of how I was spending my money. I often borrowed from different categories when there was something that I really wanted to do.
  • My biggest savings was on rent. When I first started this challenge, I had budgeted $700 a month for rent and I thought that would be a stretch. I think once I embraced the idea of living at the dorm again, I knew I was going to come under budget. And then when I moved in with my sister, I knew it would be by a lot.
  • I also decided a few months in to revise my budget to $18,000 to give myself a bit of a reserve in case something unexpected came up.
  • My grocery bill really went down once I moved in with my sister. Some might consider this cheating, but I think most people get a “free lunch” every now and again. Whether it be Sunday night dinner with the folks or free company meals. My “free lunches” this year, came from my sister wanting to cook meals for me that I might not have otherwise made. She’s a fan of The Food Network and likes to experiment.
  • I learned that I spent a lot of money on snacks. So a few months before the end of the year, I decided to give myself a $5 per month snack allowance. I think this is a keeper of an idea.
  • I also learned that I spent a lot of money on coffee. However, I feel that I should have recorded some of my coffee expenses under Blog/Writing. Often times, I was paying more for having a place to work then for the drink itself – specialty coffee drinks excluded.
  • My everyday transportation costs were really low. If you take into consideration my Greyhound bus tickets for my occasional Toronto trips, then yes, it would be higher. But still, I had budgeted $600. I did not spend $600.
  • I made a few bad buys. I talked about some of them in June’s mid-year review. I bought 5 pairs of shoes! And I call myself a minimalist! I only ended up liking two of them: my rain boots and my Toms. But then my rain boots got a hole. I also bought a membership to WWOOF that I might not end up using.
  • Even on my small budget, I was able to read the books I wanted to read and see the movies I wanted to see. Thanks in large part to my local public library. But I also bought books (mostly ebooks) and went to the theatre, including the Toronto International Film Festival. I spent many days hanging out in coffee shops. I took yoga classes. I hosted a baby shower. I had a “refriendcation” in June. I even got my first pedicure. More importantly, I never felt deprived.
  • This year wasn’t just about spending; I made some money in unique ways. I bartered with friends for free meals for doing their taxes. I found money on the ground: $10.60! And I sold some clothes on consignment for the first time.
  • Overall, my number one piece of advice is to: TRACK EVERYTHING! Seriously, I don’t know why I never did this before. I mean, it’s my money and I was just letting it drift away without really knowing where it was going. Once you know, you can decide how you’d actually rather spend it.

So what am I going to do with the remaining $5,936.93? I’m going to buy . . . time. The majority of the money I spent this year, came from savings. I’m going to continue writing and spending time with my sister and Baby Buttercup for a few more months and then, we’ll see.

Will I be repeating this challenge? Yes, though I won’t be posting monthly updates. Perhaps I’ll do an annual update. I might come in slightly below or slightly above budget; but I think living lagom on $20,000 a year works for me!

P.S. If you still want to know what books I’m reading, movies I’m seeing, clothes I’m adding to / removing from my wardrobe, etc., you can follow me on Instagram.