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?

Friday’s Frugal Five

It’s Frugal Friday y’all!

Some frugal things for this week:

  1. Used my Discover card when I bought a tank of gas.  Gas is one of the 5% cash back categories this quarter!  That was like an extra DOLLAR of cash back, people. 🙂
  2. Those extra dollars add up to…more gift cards I can buy.  I get $50 Chipotle gift cards for $45 in cash back.  I used one of those cards yesterday to have a “free” lunch with my friend.
  3. The other 4 days this week I packed lunch.
  4. For coffee at work I usually fill up a reusable K-cup canister from the bag of coffee I have stashed beneath the team Keurig.  However, yesterday I went to our Starbucks cafe at work with my friend as a treat (and to stave off sleepiness from my restless child’s lack of sleep the night before).  Instead of buying a latte, I bought an Americano and added a little cream.  This hack usually saves at least $1.50.  Also? Because it’s an infrequent splurge, I REALLY enjoyed it.
  5. Last year I bought small Christmas gifts for our daughter’s daycare teachers.  Each teacher got a favorite drink and snack along with a Target gift card.  Well, one of those teachers was on maternity leave at Christmas and decided not to come back to work.  I’ve been holding on to the gift and now realized that I can reuse that Target gift card.  Looks like I’ll be buying some “free” paper towels and Kleenex this weekend!

I’m also very happy to report there were no outrageous unanticipated household expenses this week so I feel really good about the week’s spending.

How was your week?

What is Your Money Personality – and How Did it Develop?

What is your money personality?

I recently came upon this quiz online and here are my results:


These results are accurate.  I’ve got a case of bag lady syndrome and have been like that pretty much since I started living on my own.  For anyone not familiar with the term, bag lady syndrome is a fear of ending up destitute.  I am confident in my financial decision making skills, but I still view money as a security blanket.  (More on this later…)

And while I don’t save as much as many in the FIRE community, I’ve always been an above-average saver.

The Other Personalities

According to The Money Couple, these are the other personalities:Capture2We all know people who fit this category, right?  People who love the finer things in life and live life to the fullest.  I also know people who give thoughtful gifts; it makes me think about the Five Love Languages, because receiving gifts is an important expression of love to some people.

Capture4Think about anyone you know who is an entrepreneur at heart.  This is definitely not me.  I am willing to take a normal amount of risk in the markets since I have a long time horizon, but I’m risk averse in daily life.

Capture3This is the closest match to my husband’s personality.  Money is relatively unimportant to him; it is simply a means to an end.

How did you develop your money personality?

  • Were you born with your money tendencies?
  • Was it influenced by the way your family taught you about money or your financial situation growing up?
  • Has it been impacted by your life events in adulthood?

Growing up, we always had plenty of food and a warm house, but we did not have much money.  My dad was a farmer and outcomes were often dependent on factors outside our control – Mother Nature and the agricultural markets.  I think this is a big factor that shaped my money personality; I didn’t want to have so little control over my own financial destiny.  Thus money became a security blanket to me.  I saw how hard my dad worked, yet all that hard work didn’t always translate into money in the bank.  I’ve made safe, traditional education and job choices in adulthood because of my risk aversion, and it’s also been a reason for my “save for a rainy day” mantra.

I also think some of it is just our inherent personality.  I am the firstborn and have the traditional firstborn traits.  I’m conscientious, cautious, controlling, and achievement oriented (yep I love setting goals!).  As far as I know, my younger brother is good with money, but he’s not a crazy finance nerd like me.

Ongoing life events impact our money personality, too.  There was a period of almost three years at the end of my first marriage where I was the only breadwinner.  (Did I mention this was during the last economic meltdown?)

This series of events could have led to financial ruin for a lot of people.  While I did have a rebuilding period after my divorce, I did not have to start from scratch.  I had been saving for a rainy day – that day came, and it lasted nearly 3 years.  I was thankful that I had developed the ability to live below my means and that I had a healthy emergency fund stashed away.  This experience simply reinforced my belief that MONEY = SECURITY and FREEDOM.

Would you change your money personality?

Overall I’m pretty satisfied with being a saver and security seeker.  I sleep well at night without worrying about money.  But in an ideal world, I would take a little more risk, have more fun in the moment, and stress a little less about life in general. 

As our daughter grows older, we will teach her to live frugally and save.  But I also hope that she will take calculated risks and enjoy her life to the absolute fullest.

What is your money personality?  How do you think it developed, and would you change it?

Friday’s Frugal Five (or FAIL?)


This week’s recap feels like more of a Frugal Fail than a Frugal Five.  But here’s how it went:

  1. The big frugal fail was an unplanned house expense.  My husband started off doing something very frugal: he tried to fix our leaky shower head.  (He’s actually pretty handy around the house.)  Unfortunately things went awry and then the main water valve shutoff to our house BROKE.  Yup, not a whole lot you can do there that doesn’t involve calling a plumber.  That was an unexpected 4-figure expense.  Sometimes that’s the reality of being a homeowner, but it was still frustrating.  Luckily we have a healthy emergency fund for just this purpose, should we need to tap into it.
  2. Everyone in our house was sick at some point this past week!   My husband was actually at home from work Monday when the whole plumbing debacle happened, and I felt terrible because he had taken the day as a sick day to get more rest from the cold/flu he had over the weekend.  Right about the time the plumber left I showed up at home, as I had received a call from the daycare to pick up our sick child.  Luckily, the family sickness didn’t derail our spending much.  When I was home with the baby Tuesday I ate leftovers for lunch, and when my husband was home with her on Wednesday he made a box of mac and cheese that we had in the pantry.  AND, I had a banana that was past it’s prime that was perfect for putting in a smoothie that I made for our feverish little one.  Sick babies are soooo sad!  Luckily everyone is on their way back to 100% health now.
  3. Stocked up on snack provisions at work to avoid visiting the vending machine or running to the work cafe for a snack or treat.   (See photo)
  4. We received two gift deposits to our daughter’s 529 account this month for her birthday.  Yay for family members who are willing to support our financial and lifestyle goals!  Our daughter definitely didn’t need any more “stuff” so the 529 gifts were perfect.
  5. We had fajitas a couple nights ago for dinner.  There was just a smidge left over that I stashed in the frig for lunch today, saving me from having to buy lunch out.

It feels defeating to be writing about such SMALL WINS, like eating leftover fajitas rather than spending $5-10 on a lunch from the work cafe, in a week where we had such a LARGE unexpected expense.  But I have been reminding myself this week that small savings daily, on important categories of our lifestyle, lead to large savings over time.

How was your week?  Has your household been battling sickness this season too?

How my Community Keeps me Motivated

Nearly 5 years ago my friends J and L and I started a group called the COA.

What is the COA, you may ask?  Let’s step in the time travel machine and go back to 2013…


One morning, J was driving to work listening to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  The section in which Rubin discussed her resolution to “ASK FOR HELP” by forming a writers’ strategy group and in which she shared the idea of forming a goals group or a Community of Aspirants mirrored many of the discussions J and her friends had over email and in person.

J and her friends, JP and L had sporadically done “monthly challenges” and often discussed goals and strategies to achieve those goals. Also, they just liked hanging out together and didn’t have enough regular occasion to get together for coffee, brunch, and catching up. As soon as she got to work, J emailed JP and L and they set a coffee date for that Sunday morning.

Over lattes, their Community of Aspirants–COA for short– was born.


Though L moved several states away last year, the COA is still going strong!  We are now doing our monthly touch base meetings via phone.

Some of the recurring themes of our goals over the years have included fitness/health, career, “adultiness” (this includes things like clearing clutter and being a better person generally) and finances.

I’m excited to announce that J and L have agreed to talk money here on the FIREd up blog!  Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more.  And if you’d like to become a part of the virtual conversation, let me know.  We’d love to have you!

Do you have your own COA?  What community helps keep you on track with your financial (and non-financial) goals?


Friday’s Frugal Five

Tread Lightly, Retire Early has been one of my inspirations for doing the Friday Frugal Five.  I’ve been at a bit of a loss for inspiration on what to write about next, so recapping my money wins for the week is a quick way for me to stay engaged with both the blog and my financial accountability.

  1. Mrs. Groovy pointed out in a post this week that she gets excited when the library notifies her that a new book is checked out and waiting for her.  I am the same way!  My library has a great selection of e-books, so I just put a few on hold at a time, then patiently wait until one is available to check out.  Typically a new one will be available by the time I’m done reading my current book.  I finally got a book this week that had been on my holds list for a couple months.
  2. I gave away almost all of my maternity clothes to a friend last year, but I kept one black sweater.  I’m actually wearing it today!  It doesn’t look like a maternity sweater at all, which is why I kept it.  Also, I don’t thrift shop very often, but I did buy a few things that way when I was pregnant.  This sweater was purchased secondhand for $8.
  3. I only went out to lunch one day this week and it was a pre-planned lunch with a work friend I don’t catch up with enough.  The other four days I packed lunch from home.  I had the same meal THREE times – a leftover black bean soup that I made on Sunday.  Luckily it was delicious, and I also mixed it up by bringing a few different snacks/sides to go with the soup.
  4. That black bean soup I just mentioned?  It was made with a $1.29 bag of dry black beans, an onion, and some carrots/celery/spices I already had at home.  Cheap, filling, and nutritious.
  5. The cold snap we had this week made me realize the parts of my wardrobe that are lacking.  A specific example would be my lack of thick, warm socks.  Since I’m doing the Uber Frugal Month Challenge, I did not immediately go buy new socks.  I made do by doubling up on my thin socks.

What financial wins did you have this week, small or large?

Life Lessons from my Toddler’s First Birthday

My baby turned one last week!  I’ve been trying to call her a toddler, because she really isn’t a baby any more, but it’s quite an adjustment.  It is amazing how much a tiny human changes in 12 months.

The ‘Party’

When it came time to think about her first birthday party, I knew I wanted to keep it low-key, especially since it falls so soon after the holidays.  The Frugalwoods party for Babywoods’ first birthday was an inspiration and validated that yes, it really is okay to have a simple celebration for your one-year-old.  For me taking this approach was  mostly about simplifying life and not creating unnecessary stress to put on an event that our child won’t even remember.  (Saving $$ was a bonus!)

Our siblings and my mother-in-law do not live close to us, so the guest list consisted of me, my husband, my daughter, my father-in-law, and my mom.  Unfortunately, my mom was sick, but we finally figured out Skype and she was able to join us virtually!

Our party agenda consisted of lunch, opening presents from Grandpa, and of course eating CAKE!  Because first birthdays are all about the cake smash, right?  I made the cake myself…and it was actually kind of fun.  It turned out like a strawberry shortcake since I put fruit on top and made a whipped cream icing.

Parenting and Relationships

A moment from last weekend really made me reflect on how our relationships with our parents have grown during our child’s first year.

My father-in-law is not a man of many words, but I have loved watching his face light up when he interacts with our daughter.  For her birthday, his gifts consisted of some classic books that belonged to my husband as a child, including Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, and The Little Engine That Could.  The titles also included a book of poems.  He commented that he enjoys poetry and hopes it will be something she enjoys, too.  My heart melted a little when he said that.  Not only were his gifts frugal and useful, but they were incredibly heartfelt.

I already had a good relationship with my mom, but this past year I have valued her even more.  My mom was truly meant to be a grandma.  She is a nurturing, caring person by nature and also by career – she works in public health and deals with kids all the time.  Though my mom does not have the financial means to spoil our daughter the way I’m sure she would like to, there is ZERO need from our perspective for her to do so. The best gift she can provide is her time and attention.  Though she lives 2 1/2 hours away, we have focused on making sure we spend as much time with her as possible so that she can see her granddaughter grow and develop.

Fellow parents – what unexpected lessons did you learn from your child/children’s first year?

Friday’s Frugal Five – New Years Edition

5 ways I’ve worked my frugality muscles this past week:

  1.  We are participating in the Uber Frugal Month Challenge!  I use the term “we” loosely…it’s really me, trying to sprinkle a few ideas over to my husband.  It has been an interesting exercise so far, as he operates a lot differently than I do.  There may be more to say on this later in the month as we see how the challenge plays out.  Stay tuned!
  2. Related to #1, we are focusing on reducing our food spend outside the house this month, so we each have a set budget.  I brought leftovers to work for lunch Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  3. I work in finance for a publicly traded company.  Once a quarter, when lots of people are super busy doing the accounting close for the quarter, they do a free lunch for the organization.  It’s not great food (our work cafeteria caters it), but it’s not terrible either.  Free food tastes better, right?
  4. Pork shoulder was on sale last weekend at the store so we did a pork shoulder in the slow cooker.  We had it for two different meals already (nachos and pulled pork sandwiches), still have leftovers in the frig, AND I froze some for a future meal.  Winning!
  5. With the cold snap we’ve been experiencing it’s been more noticeable how different the temperature is on different floors of our house.  The upstairs may be toasty, while the downstairs (where the man cave resides) can be a little frigid.  My hubs asked last weekend about buying a space heater.  Guess what?  I already own one, from before we got married!  I dug it out of the garage and he happily started using it.

How have you started off the year?

FIREd up about 2018 Goals

I’m a planner by nature.  I like to set goals.  None of this should be too surprising if you read my last post revealing my Upholder tendency.

Several years ago I read Chris Guillebeau’s fantastic post about his Annual Review process and have been using it as a guideline ever since.  As 2017 wraps up I’m pondering what 2018 has in store.  2018 goals will span several different fronts – creativity/blogging, work, travel, relationships/motherhood, health & fitness, learning, and financial.

Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the big goals:


  1. Max out 401(k).  I feel like a fraud having a personal finance blog and saying this, BUT…I have never maxed out my 401(k).  I’ve always contributed enough to get my company match, and in most years significantly more than that.  Last year was about working on liquid savings to pay for expenses for the baby on the way and the partially unpaid maternity leave.  It wasn’t until I came back from leave earlier this year and reassessed our financial situation that I realized that this was actually a very realistic goal going forward.  I’ve been doing some catch-up on my 401(k) contributions the last part of this year and will actually have to reduce my % at the start of the year so I don’t max out early and miss any company match.
  2. Make 2017 IRA contribution (amount TBD).  For some reason I thought that you couldn’t contribute to a 401(k) AND make a deductible contribution to an IRA, but this amazing post by Justin at Root of Good corrected that mistaken belief.  As long as you meet Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI – not to be confused with MAGA!) limits, you can contribute to both a 401(k) and traditional IRA.  The amount of the contribution will depend on a few factors, including the amount I’ve contributed to my Roth for 2017 (you can only contribute $5,500 to both – not to EACH), our exact MAGI number, and the amount of our tax refund.
  3. Finalize will.  I posted about this earlier.  We’ve met with our lawyer for the initial consultation.  I’d like to have a final document early in 2018.
  4. Fund 25% of Financial Freedom goal for non-retirement funds.  This will partly be dependent on how the markets do.


  1. Average one post per week.
  2. Share quarterly updates on progress against the Financial Freedom goal.

I’m really early in this blogging experience, so I’ve left these goals pretty open for now.


  1. Attend FINCON 2018.  Money nerds unite!  Whether this becomes a realization  will depend on a lot of things including life in general and how much I engage with the personal finance community in 2018.
  2. Get 2nd mortgage balance below $10,000.  Are piggyback mortgages still a thing?  We did an 80-15-5 mortgage back in the pre-2008 housing meltdown days, and they were pretty common then.  The higher rate on the second mortgage outweighed the higher payment with PMI.  The first mortgage has been refinanced and this second mortgage just needs to go away….

One final note

I am great at setting goals but sometimes not so great at letting go of things that no longer add value.  Jillian just wrote a very timely post on her blog about knowing when to quit something that no longer serves you.  Check it out!

Do you set annual goals?  What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?




Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take the quiz to find out!

I’m currently reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.  Many of the principles in her book can translate to the world of personal finance.  Today I’m writing specifically about her Four Tendencies framework.

The idea behind this framework (which is also the subject of her latest book) is that we all face two sets of expectations:  outer and inner.  Outer expectations are those placed on us by others, such as family, friends, bosses, and society in general.  An example would be a due date for a big work project.  Inner expectations are those we place on ourselves, such as setting a New Year’s resolution.

How she describes the framework in her own words:

Depending on a person’s response to outer and inner expectations, that person falls into one of four distinct types:

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations

Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

If you want to know your tendency, she has a quick quiz you can take on her site.

I am an Upholder with Questioner tendencies.  If I commit to something, I don’t have problems sticking to it.  Most of the time I’m a rule follower, but sometimes I question external expectations if they don’t make sense.

Some observations on this framework and it’s intersection with personal financial habits:

  • FIRE folks are impressively goal oriented; I would guess that most do not have a hard time meeting inner expectations, or if they do, they have figured this out about themselves and created hacks to make themselves accountable.
  • I envision the most hardy FIRE people – the Mustachians – as Questioners.  They challenge societal expectations.  You don’t have to work until you’re 65 (or even 55!)!  Of course you can save 70% of your income!  (or maybe they are Rebels?)
  • According to Gretchen’s survey results, Obliger is the most frequent tendency.  External accountability helps obligers meet goals.  Just as an obliger might benefit from hiring a personal trainer to form an exercise habit or joining Weight Watchers to lose weight, an obliger seems like a good candidate to work with a financial planner who will help keep him/her accountable to financial goals.  Alternatively, sharing goals publicly (such as on a blog) or with a trusted friend could also serve as a way to provide accountability.  Or perhaps the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge might create the sense of community that would inspire an obliger?

What is your tendency?  How does it impact your financial habits?

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