Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Posts Tagged ‘thrift

September purchases

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With the start of a new semester and the end of a scholarship, I’ve been thinking more about finances recently, and about shopping.  After spending August not buying any necessities (with a few slip-ups), I’ve kept working hard to keep the unnecessary shopping to a minimum.

In my budget spreadsheet I actually record days on which I’ve spent no money.  It’s a nice visual, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment.  This month, out of 30 days I’ve had 20 that were no spending.  This is exactly what I was aiming for.  I’m pretty proud of this.

So, what did I spend on?  Beyond the usual rent ($610), electricity ($40), phone ($30), internet ($50), and insurance ($25), I don’t seem to have bought much.  There was a thrifted t-shirt and new with tags pumps that dont hurt my ankle to go towards an outfit for job interviews ($7), plus some new socks that I hope will help to prevent blisters on my longer runs ($10).  There was a whole lot of cough medicine and cough drops to stop the hacking long enough that I could teach the first week of classes when I was oh-so-sick ($30) as well as shampoo, toothpase, and deodorant ($13).  There were thank you cards bought to send out for the wedding gifts that were given to us ($5). There was a plunger and snake for a backed up sink, and a carpet sweeper ($50 – the month’s biggest purchase), a low-cost way to finally keep my carpets clean, I hope (and no, it’s not one of the ones that requires regular purchase of sticky insert things).   There was food – a lot of it – mostly purchased at the local farmer’s market directly from local farmers.  And then there were some used books – $13 for three novels, a textbook, and a book on raising goats.

While they’re not all necessities, certainly, they are things that will be used and kept for a good long while, and the outgoing cash for their purchase was relatively minimal – $251.67 if I include the food (which is, of course, a necessity), and $131.91 if I don’t.

And so, while I’ve actually received three paycheques this month, thanks to an unplanned overlapping of three different jobs, I’ve managed to live this month on just one (with $125 in savings coming out of that one as well), and the extras will go into savings as soon as I take out some money for charitable donations (this, unfortunately, does tend to vary from month to month – some are rather tight, others not really so much).

And that was September.  I’m pleased with how the budgeting went, and while there’s always room for improvement, I think everything went rather well overall.  Next month?  Trying to cut down even a bit more, on electricity, on food, and on things that aren’t really essentials.  The used books are still proving a bit troublesome since there’s so much I want to read (I keep stopping in to look for The Hunger Games), but I’ll be seeing about that a bit as well and working to set more limits on the book puchases both for money and space reasons.


Written by Jenn

October 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm

September budget, part two

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And now, for the challenge.

I’ve set myself caps for most of my expenses – amounts that I will not surpass unless there’s an emergency.  These caps are pretty generous, to make sure there’s room for needed expenses without things feeling too tight, but also room so that I feel like I’m saving extra (a bit of built in flexibility is a tricky way of letting myself feel like I’ve accomplished something when I’m likely to not spend all of the money allocated to a category).  It’s really this latter feature that I’m most interested in, and I’m challenging myself to spend as little – and save as much – of the set amount as possible.

Rent    610
Insurance    30
Phone/Internet    100
Electricity    40
Food    100
Play    60
Transportation    40
Education    60
Health    60
Gifts    15
Clothes    10
Savings     125

Total: 1250  (just shy of what I should be making monthly just from teaching)

The idea is that I won’t go above these amounts.  However, in order to ensure I can have access to money if I need more of it at one time than another, I am allowing myself to transfer remainders from month to month within the same grouping.  For instance, buying Christmas gifts will take up not only December’s allowance, but also the amounts from a number of months beforehand.  I’m also allowing myself to borrow from other categories in the same month, although I’m limiting myself to covering only food, health, or education in this way, since I’m anticipating a few bigger expenses.  If I need to buy an expensive textbook, for instance, I can take unused play money to help cover it.  I’m expecting that these will be the exceptions, though, and not the rule.

The rest will go into savings every month.  I have a built in $125 (1/10 of what I should be making) going into savings each month, plus the amount that’s automatically deducted into my pension, but I want to continue to build this up as much as I can.  By ensuring that I’m spending below my means, through a budget and by challenging myself, I think I can manage this year – even without a scholarship – to continue adding to my savings as much as possible even beyond the basic amounts that I’ve set for myself.

I know this probably sounds rather dry – budgeting frequently does, in my experience – but I’m excited about the challenge.  I’d like to stop spending as much as possible, and focus on other things.  I’d like to see my savings grow even as I keep on with grad school.  I’d like to know that my finances are relatively stable, and that I can continue to live in a way that doesn’t put me into debt.

And…here I go.

Written by Jenn

September 1, 2010 at 1:05 am

No spending – the verdict

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After a month of no spending, I thought it might be worthwhile to give some thought to what I learned, what I thought I did well on, and where I thought I could use some improvement.

In general, I did fairly well, I think.  Now, I don’t buy that much at the best of times, and what I do get is second-hand anyway, so the difference aren’t all that noticeable on the surface, and tend to have more to do with attitude than with more measurable things.  That said, I do think my attitude has started to shift a bit.  I’ve been out shopping less than in the past.  Although there were a few slip-ups, I use it even less as a crutch or a distraction than I did before.

There’s room for improvement, though.  Perhaps the biggest thing that I noticed was that when the going gets rough, I get going to the bookstore.  My biggest not-so-great decisions came around fairly rough times and involved the purchase of books.  In both cases the shopping extravaganzas came in at under $10, which isn’t exactly bank breaking, even on a student budget.  On principle, though, I think I’d like to tighten this up a bit more, or at least control it a bit better.  I love books.  I love having a wide range of reading material around me.  I love curling up on the couch or in bed with a book and some tea for some quiet time.  But I don’t want to be blindly shopping just because I’m having  bit of a rough go.

I also noticed that I got rather good at justifying work related purchases.  Books for research, office supplies, and desk accessories became pretty exciting purchases and were easy to explain away, both because they appear to be useful and because I get reimbursed for some of them.  While I don’t regret these purchases (which made up the bulk of my questionable category), I don’t necessarily want to be simply replacing my old shopping habits with ones that may be equally as problematic but more easily justified.

Other than that, I think things went well.  Having the no spending ideal in place made me reconsider and avoid things I would have shopped for before.  While books still showed up here and there, there were plenty of things that didn’t.  I acquired no new dishes (I love dishes) or other housewares.  No clothes, shoes, or jewelry came home.  I avoided craft supplies, including wool for knitting and patterns for sewing.  I even left behind wool blankets in a few instances, and those tend to be my shopping kryptonite.

The things I bought were also more intentional – they were on my radar for a long time, and when I happened across them I spent a fair amount of time debating their merits before making a final decision.  Things were more likely to make it back onto the shelf than home with me.

I didn’t buy anything new – those few things that did come home were either food or used items.

I also had more time for other things.  Recently, I’ve been reading more than I have in awhile, just for pleasure.  I’ve spent a lot more time exercising.  I’ve spent time with friends more than I used to.  And I’ve been getting a lot more work done.  I don’t know that this can all be attributed to the fact that I’ve seriously curbed my shopping, but if it is, it’s been a nice effect.

So, where to from here?  Well, honestly, I’m a bit torn.  I’d like to carry on with the no spending project, but there are some purchases on my standing shopping list that will need to be made soon, and I don’t really need any additional guilt or questioning associated with them (I’m plenty good enough at that without a no spending project factored in as well – spending money is not something that I enjoy very much).  That said, I also don’t know that I want free rein – I’m not out of the woods with work yet, and athough that sounds far more dire than it is, allowing myself to shop when I want is perhaps not the best idea going.

Not to leave things hanging, but this is something that I want to think about a bit more.  While I did spring for two mugs when I was out and about and poking my head into the local thrift store the other day (vintage Fire King, which I adore – pictures soon, probably), the only spending that I’ve done so far in August has been on food, so I’m actually off to a reasonable start.  But I think I’d like to come up with some more specific goals and guidelines before I launch into something else.

Written by Jenn

August 8, 2010 at 8:31 pm

No spending, the wrap-up

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Well, wrap-up for now, anyway…more to come later.

For those following along, it’s probably pretty clear by now that I’ve been away.  There’s a long story and a short one, but the short one is just that things have been a bit rough on the work front for a few weeks, and dealing with the issues (and my resulting emotional state) took a whole lot of time, plus a bunch of rest and time spent trying to take care of myself.

The craziness isn’t over yet – I’m just sitting a bit more calmly in the middle of it right now.  But for now, I’m sitting at the table, surrounded by books, drinking green tea from a vintage mug and listening to “The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited”.  Really, with that going for me life can’t be all bad, can it?

So, I may or may not be back to posting more regularly soon.  To be fair, I very much hope to be.  Having a side project and a record of it did me a lot of good, I think, and I don’t want to lose out on that.  There are, however, a few kinks to work out first, plus some extra work that’s due to start very soon (which I’m looking forward to, by-the-by).

But, in the meantime, July is over (decidedly over now, sadly), and I have more to talk about with regards to the no spending.

The bad: after a good friend and I both had seriously lousy days, we took a trip to the used bookstore for a bit of distraction.  While I once again stuck with books that have been on my list for awhile, I did buy a few that were more wants than needs right now.  Admittedly nothing was over $3 and most were less, totalling $7, but still.  In the name of full disclosure I left with Jane Jacob’s “The Nature of Economies,” Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” (which I’ve been wanting to read for ages), and a lovely hardbound edition of “The Wind in the Willows”.  One of my favourite stress-relievers is reading good children’s lit, and the latter is one that I actually haven’t ever read.  While I’m thrilled to be able to read them, I’m not quite so thrilled about buying yet more books, or heading out to shop as a distraction when things are not going so well.  This might be something to give more thought to.

The questionable: I’m a bit behind on ordering work-related things, so this week didn’t really have any questionable purchases in it – no textbooks, no software, no other supplies.

In terms of non-academic purchases, The Boy and I did make a move to buy a new push-cart type thing, since the old one was dying and we like it for groceries, but they were out of stock, so we made do with the reusable bags we usually use.

The good: my spending (other than the books) was limited to food.  Occasionally this was not-quite-so-good food (comfort, thy name is cheese), but for the most part I was buying good quality farmer’s market produce, which I’m pleased with.  The fridge is currently full of escarole, lettuce, spinach, leeks, tomatos, mushroons, zucchini, squash, and other tasty things.

So, that’s the nuts and bolts of what happened.  That said, I think I could use a bit of a post on what (if anything) I learned, where I’d like to improve, and whether I’m going to continue to limit or cut out spending in the same way.

Written by Jenn

August 5, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Money matters

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No spending, week three (a little late)

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This dissertation thing is really taking over.  This is really a good thing, since I need to finish it, and it still feels like there are masses of things left to do, but it does mean sacrificing other things, like most other forms of writing.  I hope to be back to writing here soon, but the combination of mass amounts of work, a more regular and intense exercise routine (more about that later), and a significant apartment purge and cleanup is just not leaving much in the way of time.  Sad, I suppose, but productive nonetheless.

But, onto no spending, which is going reasonably well, I think.

The bad: again, nothing truly bad to report this week, I don’t think. I’ve largely stayed away from stores, although I will admit to popping in to thrift stores when I pass them to search for the dishes mom collects – they’re the only things she ever really wants as gifts, and are hard to find, so regular trips are useful in terms of getting gifts together for her.

The questionable: I’ve been talking for awhile now about setting up a better office space for myself recently.  most of the time I work on the couch or in my ikea chair.  This is comfortable, but I think I need a better desk space to really make the time that I spend there productive.  I’ve been talking for awhile about getting a keyboard tray, but haven’t been able to find one that didn’t require drilling at any local office supply places, or one that was in my price range.  I was in a thrift store the other day looking for the dishes that my mom collects, and found (and bought) a keyboard tray that clamps onto the desk for $8.  The Boy put it together for me yesterday, and it works better than I expected.  Technically this wasn’t on my list, but it’s been on my radar for awhile, and I’m delighted to get it for significantly less than the ones I was looking at before.

Just as a note, it seems to me, looking back over the past few weeks, that my questionable purchases focus on work and getting the dissertation and other work done – office supplies, books, software, and so on.  While I’d prefer not to be buying stuff if I can help it, I decided awhile ago that if I thought that something would really help me work, then I wouldn’t be too hard on myself for putting out a bit of money.

The good: as with the previous weeks, I did head to the farmer’s market this week and did a bunch of shopping there.  While it winds up being a bit more expensive than the grocery store, I love putting money into local farms, and the quality is fairly consistently better.

In the interest of cutting out a few more things to consume when the no spending month is done, I’ve been experimenting with making a few more things for myself.  In addition to the foods that I’ve already tried – sports drink, pickles, and jam – I’ll be starting on pesto made from my big basil plants soon.  While I don’t wear much makeup or use many products, I’ve also been playing around with possible alternatives, both for financial and health reasons, but I suspect I’ll be doing a bigger post on that later.

Written by Jenn

July 25, 2010 at 11:20 am

Posted in Money matters

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Thrift: wool blankets

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It gets cold here in the winter.  That, combined with the fact that my apartment is poorly insulated, and the fact that I’d rather not crank the heat, means that I appreciate things that keep me warm.

Enter the thrift-store wool blanket collection.

I have wool blankets on the back of the couch and my reading chair.  I have them on my bed, both under and over the sheets for extra warmth.  I have them stacked on chairs and on a wicker stand in the bedroom.  They’re plain, striped, and plaid, with blanket-stitched, satin-covered, and fringed edges.  They all came from thrift stores, some from my own shopping, some as gifts (thrift store gifts are great in my books).  None cost over $7, and most cost $5 or less

In some ways they’re pretty much a collection, as much as anything else that I have hanging around here.  Perhaps I have more than I technically need right now.  But  I love things that remind me of camping, cottages, and cabins.  Wool blankets  are huge for me in that respect, and I love having them around for the associations that they evoke.

But they also serve a very real purpose here.  When the weather’s nice, they do sometimes get used for picnics.  But most important is now nice they are to have around in the winter.  Wool is an incredible insulator, and warmer than many other materials.They get hung over windows to keep out the cold, and put on the floor to keep my feet warm.  I sleep under and over them, sometimes with many piled on at the same time.  I cover my legs and wrap them around my shoulders when I’m working or reading.   They help keep me warm and comfortable, both physically and psychologically, and in the cold of winter, that’s reason enough to have them around.

What to look for: my preference is for 100 percent wool blankets.  Although there are some nice blends that are less prone to shrinking and wrinkling in the wash, I find the feel of pure wool to be the nicest, and anything with more than 20 percent man made fibers just doesn’t feel as lovely.  Tags stating the composition of the blanket and, in some cases, where it was made, can be found on the bottom corners of some blankets.  If you can find it, merino wool is especially nice – it’s as warm as regular wool, but tend to be thinner and softer.

Before buying, it’s worth opening the blanket to check it out.  Look for moth holes – this can sometimes mean that there are moth eggs, and having those guys hatch and start snacking voraciously on other woolens – blankets, sweaters, yarn, hats, and so on – is just no fun.  Also look for other holes.  One of my blankets came home with two small burns in it.  Small holes care generally pretty easily fixed with darning – if you’re willing to do the work – but bigger ones can get a bit tricky.  Finally, also check for smells.  Some smells just wash out, but it’s worth being cautious of anything really musty or stink, since these tend to be difficult to get out.

Perhaps most importantly, look for something that will get used.  Sure, warmth is important, and may not matter for something that’s going to be stashed under a quilt.  But there are a lot of different blends, styles, patterns, and finishes, and it’s worth looking for something aesthetically pleasing as well, especially if it’s something that will be visible and used a lot .

Written by Jenn

July 3, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Thirty days of thrift

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While I may be taking some time off from thrift-store pursuits (which do make up the bulk of my shopping), I’m still a huge thrift-store advocate.  I’ve already briefly set out my love of the thrift store, a love developed in my undergrad days when I discovered the heady joys of the local Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Store that happened to be on my way home from work and which sold books for $0.25 each or less.  I’ve been a thrift store lover ever since, heading out for the local shops with the same zeal as the religious people who came up my fire escape in undergrad and patiently watched me blowdry my hair – half undressed – for four minutes before starting in on their pitch while still red in the face from the embarrassment of it all (but that’s another story for another time, perhaps).

But for those who are not thrift store aficionados, I thought I might offer a bit of inspiration by showing some of the things that I’ve found there that have been useful to me in some way, shape or form, from household items to books and from clothes to bedding.

Thrift stores are not everyone’s thing.  I get that.  Sometimes this is a general preference or squeamishness, which is understandable, but sometimes it’s a result of bad thrift store experiences.  I happen to have lucked out with some pretty good stores, although I’ve been in a few truly soul-sucking ones that, were I not already convert, would have me running away like my brother from foods that touch.

But given the benefits of thrift stores – cheap goods, reusing unwanted items, and supporting charity – over the next thirty days as I keep myself away from shopping I’d like to offer up some of the things that I’ve picked up in thrift stores that have really worked for me and that I’m using in the challenge of making do that I’ve set for myself.  Material goods won’t necessarily solve any problems, but there are certainly some things that are useful or just plain old nice to have out there.  It just so happens most of mine came to me via the thrift store.

I don’t think I want to turn this into a massive show and tell, and if I find that it’s just not working for me I may step back from the thirty days.  But for now, I’m hoping to show some of why second-hand shopping can be such a good thing.

Written by Jenn

July 2, 2010 at 11:52 am

Posted in Sustainable living

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