What I Learned from the Uber Frugal Month Challenge

In January I decided to partake in the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge as this was the last opportunity before it goes on hiatus.

I really didn’t know what to expect; I went in with an open mind to see what I could learn.  Now that the month is complete, here are my biggest takeaways:

My basic frugality skills are solid.

As I read each daily e-mail, I realized that I’ve already done a lot of work to get back to a frugal mindset in the past year or so.  I have cut back on clothing/shoes purchases, pack lunch for work 4’ish days a week, actively shop the ads at our grocery store, think before purchasing things impulsively.  Since we have a toddler, our travel and entertainment budget is pretty minimal (we don’t go out much).  We even hosted a frugal birthday party for our daughter, which was both inexpensive and low stress.

I also used the challenge as an opportunity to “go without” some small luxuries for a month as a reset.  For example, I didn’t buy anything on Amazon or Target and didn’t purchase any coffee away from home.  (How did I manage to go a whole month without setting foot in Target?)

Could I have cut my discretionary expenses even more during the challenge?  Definitely.  But overall I feel we have a solid foundation in frugality.

 

We have a lot of ‘big rocks’ in our spending

These are our 3 big rocks:  Mortgage, Daycare, and Retirement Savings.  I just added up in my head what these three line items amount to, and it’s pretty ridiculous.  In fact, January was a 5-week daycare month so that expense was nearly as much as our mortgage!  We also had an unexpected plumbing expense in the middle of the month.

When so much of your monthly budget is consumed by a few big things, it can be discouraging; why even bother cutting back on the $5 lattes or $10 lunches? But these are the only changes that will make an impact for us in the short term.

You can’t force frugality upon someone else.

I started the month trying to rope my husband into this challenge, thinking it would be fun to do it together.  One of the first UFM e-mail topics related to goals.  I set out to have a conversation with the hubs about our frugality and future life plans.

Well…I kind of forgot that my husband hates goal setting and thinking about the future and really anything that constrains his behaviors artificially.   (We are very different souls.)  I kept pushing on it and we both felt miserable at the end of the discussion.  So I took a step back and remembered I can only manage my own behaviors.

“You cannot effectively shove ANY philosophy, world view, religion, or way of life down someone else’s throat. The best you can do is live out the shining example of your financial certainty. People will notice.”  -Mrs. Frugalwoods

Do I wish my husband would spend less money going out to lunch during the week?  Yes.  Is that a hill I want to die on?  NOPE.  So I’ll carry on by eating leftover black bean soup three days in a row.  You know why?  Because I CHOOSE to do it, and it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.  (That was some damn good soup if I do say so myself.)

My husband is generally open to listening to my points about frugality when I make non-judgmental remarks in passing conversation, so I’m going to continue using this approach.

 

There is a season for saving and a season for spending.

January is the perfect month to focus on frugality.  Everyone is burned out from the holidays and trying to get back into a regular routine.  However, it can be really easy to get in a NO FUN RUT where you never let yourself splurge on anything.

This path to financial independence?  It is not a short one, at least not for us.  Some fun things need to be sprinkled in there to keep up the morale.  The key is to find a balance and spend money on things that you value.  I’m loosening up the purse strings just a little in February.

“There are seasons for blowing money like a dope, and seasons for saving like a coupon-clipping maniac. Finding your balance is key.”  –Abandoned Cubicle

Who should do the UFM Challenge?

I was a surprised to discover I didn’t learn much new information from the daily e-mails.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been reading the Frugalwoods blog for a while now and am already familiar with many of the great tips offered through the challenge.

I think the ideal target for the UFM challenge would be:

  1. Someone who is early in their frugality journey and still building their skills (this would be a great Frugality 101 class);
  2. Someone who likes/needs group accountability (there was a lot of discussion on the Facebook group, though I didn’t participate personally);
  3. Someone looking to do a frugality “cleanse” – a previously frugal person, who has encountered some lifestyle inflation and is wanting to reset habits

Have you done the UFM challenge?  What did you learn about yourself?  How do you talk frugality with your significant other?

FIREd up about the Flexibility of Financial Freedom

I was comforted to recently read this post on Adventure Rich where Ms. Adventure Rich admits that they don’t have a set FI target date or amount.  I felt some imposter syndrome setting up a FIRE blog when we don’t have an FI date or number, either.

But in reality, this isn’t a blog about me retiring early.  Ideally I am done “working” before 65, but I’m not going to be bowing out of the workforce decades early.  What really interested me in the FIRE community is the Financial Independence facet.  Money = Financial Freedom.  So rather than having a FIRE goal, it is really a Financial Freedom goal, similar to the FFLC (Fully funded lifestyle change) espoused by Slowly Sipping Coffee.

So what does Financial Freedom mean to me?

Career Flexibility

Most days, I actually don’t mind working; I enjoy the mental challenge and the social interaction.  I have worked for my company for a long time and have some great benefits, generous PTO, and a manager that respects me and doesn’t micromanage.

But I also don’t want to be tied to a job because it pays a lot, or have to work on someone else’s schedule for the next 25 years.  Companies get acquired, managers move on, job responsibilities shift, and sometimes great jobs become stifling or downright horrific.  Financial freedom means that either I or my husband can choose to quit a job if one of us lands in a bad work situation; or that we can weather the storm if one of us gets laid off.  Working towards a financial freedom goal also means that we will have the flexibility to shift careers, work part-time, take a sabbatical from paid work, or start a business.

Time

Maggie at Northern Expenditure wrote:

“…it is so unfair that the most important working years coincide with the most important years for our children. Why did parents have to spend so much time trying to build careers at the same time their children were trying to figure out how to walk and talk and learn?”

We had our daughter at the beginning of this year.  I don’t want to sacrifice these early years we have with her just to retire a few years before she leaves the nest. For me, saving and investing means we have the financial flexibility to make lifestyle changes that align with our values – spending time with our daughter.

Overcoming Uncertainty

My dad died unexpectedly at 52.  My mom is a cancer survivor.  I’m 39 now, and even though I work to maintain my health, there are things outside my control that could lead to physical limitations as I age.

On a trip to Italy a few years ago, my friend and I stayed at the property featured in the photo at the top of this post, in one of the towns in the Cinque Terre region.

Our room was at the VERY TOP.  So.many.stairs. There is often a level of physical fitness that is required for the type of travel I enjoy, such as sightseeing or hiking through the wilderness.  If I postpone all this traveling until I retire, my physical body may not be quite as willing to cooperate.

Meaning

Do you find meaning in the work you do every day?  I’ve spent my career in the corporate world.  I care about the overall mission of my company, and believe we are doing good work.  But it’s usually hard to find meaning in the day-to-day of the actual job.   I think quite a lot of people in large organizations feel this way, especially those who are seeking FIRE.  Financial freedom means the option to pursue ‘work’ that provides meaning and fulfillment, rather than just focusing on a paycheck and benefits.

What are your reasons for pursuing Financial Freedom?

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