Monday, August 1, 2011

August Challenge: Getting Back to Basics

The long (okay, only a few days) awaited for August Challenge Reveal is upon us.  *Drum Roll Please*. . . .

For the entire month of August, I'm committing to myself, my wallet, and all (three?) of you regular readers that I am going to buckle down and get back to basics.  What do I mean by this?  I share. . .

While I am a self proclaimed thriftster, I also like to shop.  Alot.  I can't help it, I was born with it in my blood.  Blame my mom.  So, I found a therapeutic way to handle my shopping addiction by turning to thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, etc to feed the shopping addiction.  Don't get the wrong idea, it's not like I'm a candidate for Hoarders or anything (well. . .maybe just in my purse!),  I shop for what I need but I do it in the most thrifty way possible.  However, after a hard look at the June and July expenditures, I came to a stomach churning realization: I'm spending more than I bring in.  Essentially, I'm living beyond my means.  I have a very very tight budget right now and I haven't been doing my part in abiding by that budget.  I fell victim to the credit card scheme.  You see, I have this really low rate credit card (0% for 6 months and even a low rate after that) which has a tremendous rewards program.  I got this special gem through work (I work for a bank) and I've been a little too lax in putting things on the credit card here lately since: 1. I'm paying no interest on the purchases (right now) and 2. I'm totally racking up the rewards points which will come in handy at Christmas time for gift cards and what not.  However, after looking at what I brought home vs. what I spent over the last few months, I realized that I just simply had to do something.  Otherwise, I'm risking the situation spinning too far beyond my control.  This self-proclaimed control freak can't have that happen.  Oh the horror!

So, here's the challenge:  cut out essentially everything beyond the absolute necessities for the entire month of August.  No extra shopping (well, read the conditions below), no extra DIY supplies (again, read the conditions below) or renovation projects.  Nothing.  I have to make a budget and stick to it.  I'm hoping that by sharing this challenge with all of you, it will help me to stick to it a little better than simply keeping it to myself.  Much easier to cheat if I'm the only one that knows about it!  Additionally, I'm committed to sharing if I fall off the wagon at all.  If I mess up and step outside of my committed challenge this month, I'll share and you can all flog me publicly (via the comments option below) for it.  Help me to stay honest.  And on track. 

Here are the nitty gritty details:

Mortgage: Try as hard as I might, I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to get out of this one.  My mortgage company just doesn't seem to agree with me that I should be able to "get back to basics" and thus eliminate their payment.  They want their money.  Actually, they seem to have this whole crazy process that happens if you don't pay them their money and I hear it doesn't end well.  Control Freaks!  So, I'm kinda stuck paying this one and considering it a "basic". 

Utilitities: Much like the mortgage, this one seems to need to stay in the "basic" category meaning that it needs to get paid.  However, unlike some others that I know, I cut down my utilities to the absolute minimum a few months ago so there really isn't anything left in there that's a "want" vs. a "need".  In my utilties category, I have electricity (No amish living here!  This girl needs to charge her cell phone and use her hair straightener!), gas (the heat kind), trash pick up (actually, cheaper than taking my garbage to the dump myself. . .and it doesn't make my car stink afterwards!), internet (an absolute must have since I'm in school and I use the internet to find all my grocery and other deals.  Plus, I wouldn't be able to update you all on my successes and failures without the internet!), cable (most basic package they have.  $17.50/month.  I guess this one could be considered a "want" rather than a "need" but I shudder to think how much I would spend to entertain myself if I didn't have cable on at home.  *Shudder*), cell phone (no home phone. . .that's a "want".  Cell phone is a "need"),  and water bill (apparently showers and baths are highly recommended.  Who knew?!)

Car & Gas: I have to continue making my car payment.  Since I don't live within walking distance to my job, grocery store, son's school, or really anything, my car is a "need" vs. a "want".  As for gasoline, I am currently budgeting $250/month for it.  That pretty much cuts me down to doing very very little extra driving other than to work/school/home.  I do what I can already to combine trips and use as little gas as possible.  However, this month I'm going to try to really stick to it.  I do have a vacation scheduled for the middle of the month where I'm driving about 5 hours each way so that will obviously increase my gas usage for the month.  BUT, I also have a work trip scheduled where I will be out of town for a week and not using any gas that week.  I'm hoping the two will kind of balance out.  However, I will really have to watch where I go when I am home to try to keep the budget under the $250 amount this month. 

Food: Luckily, due to my stockpiling and couponing (I promise, I'll get some more info surrounding this up here soon!), I do have a fairly decent stockpile already existing.  This is going to really come in handy this month because I'm trying to scale back on everything that is negotiable at all.  Since food isn't a fixed expense, it's somewhat negotiable.  Don't worry, Mom. . .I will keep feeding my kid!  My plan is to limit my weekly budget to $50/week.  This may mean that stockpiling comes to a halt for the month of August and that I can only buy the essentials, but that's fine with me.  I can start building up my stockpile again in September or October.  I've been stockpiling for about four years now and know full well that stockpiles rise and fall over time so I'm accustomed to handling my stockpile running a little short since I know there will be months where it seems like my stockpile will grow faster than I can keep up with it. 

One way I plan on sticking to the $50/week food budget is by menu planning.  This will not only force me to figure out what I already have on hand in the house, but it will force me to have a plan.  If I have a plan (i.e. something already cooking in the crock pot or thawed out in the fridge just waiting to be cooked up), I will be less inclined to sneak through the drive thru at McDonalds and slyly add a Happy Meal to the dinner plan for that evening.  I'm totally guilty of that.  The kid loves Happy Meals and I love a night off from cooking.  However, since I'm out of town for work for one week this month and we're out of town for a week, I am hoping that I'll get my fill of not having to cook on those nights and this won't be such a huge deal.  I do know of one night this month that I will be going out to dinner with a friend but it was planned weeks ago and this is a friend who I very rarely get to see due to scheduling conflicts on both our parts.  Rather than cancel our dinner out, I have instead taken it upon myself to find a coupon to the restaurant that we will be meeting at.  See, compromise!  Other than that, my goal is to ensure that at no point during August will I need to pay for my meal out anywhere.  I will pack my lunch each day and cook dinner each night. 

Clothing: This won't be such a difficult category for me, but with my son starting school the first week of September, trying to avoid buying any clothes during the month of August will be a stretch.  Since I typically buy clothing a season ahead and stash them away until needed, I proactively pulled out those clothes, took stock of what I had (actually, wrote it all down piece by piece) and then made a list of what I needed to get for him in order to have a complete fall wardrobe to start school with.  Once I made that list, I went back through the list and refined it even more.  I took a hard look at how many days during the week that he was with me and how many days that he was with his dad.  I tried to figure out how many outfits I was able to make with what I already had and what I was going to need to really go out and buy in order to make it through the fall.  I actually have a pretty short list!  I went a step further and made a list of what items that we have that we absolutely CANNOT have any more of.  Somewhere along the way I lost count of how many pairs of underwear, socks, and pajamas he had.  The kid could literally wear a new pair of underwear (and by "new", I mean taken straight out of the package. . he always wears clean underwear!) every day for a month and a half!  There's no reason why anyone needs 45 pairs of underwear. . .unless, of course, they don't own a working washing machine.  Then they might need a lot of underwear!  Anyways, it's good to have the "Never Buy" list because it keeps me from geeking out over that package of Superman undies (for TYLER. . .Not me!  I prefer Wonder Woman!) that I find on clearance for $1/pack. $1 for a 3 pair pack of undies is a tremendous deal. . .not so much when you already own 45 pairs!  So, in order to reasonably round out the fall wardrobe for the little man, I'm allotting $50 to purchase whatever I need during the month of August.  I think that should take care of it.  If I stay out of the retail stores and stick to yard sales and consignment sales ONLY for clothing, $50 to get what I need for him shouldn't be a problem. 

DIY Materials: I hope this isn't cheating, but I don't have to entirely cut out my DIY for the month of August.  I just have to make sure that I don't spend any money on it, right?  If I can't complete a project using the materials that I already have and I can't wait until later (like September?) to finish the project/buy the materials, then I do have $100 in gift cards to Home Depot that I could use.  However, once that's gone.  It's gone.  So, I will use it sparingly.  For instance, I do already have it on the schedule for my new kitchen countertops to be installed in August.  They have already been paid for, but I'm not sure if I will need to get any additional materials in order to demo the old countertops which will happen later this month.  I'm reserving that $100 in gift cards for situations like that.  Not the "ooh, I like that project, I'll just use my HD gift cards" situations.  No, those will have to wait. 

Vacation Concession: We are going down to my family's beach house in North Carolina in the middle of the month.  Since I'll be with family, I doubt I'll have a need to spend much extra money.  Luckily, my Moneybags Mom typically takes pretty good care of us kids when we're around and we don't go broke eating out or buying food.  I'll probably throw in my weekly grocery budget to try to help her out with the grocery tab that week, but I'm guessing that we won't be eating out a whole lot that week.  Plus, my Nifty Nana will be there too and no one wants to eat out when Nana is cooking!  Because we'll probably take a trip down to the board walk or some of the cute little shops in town, I've already tucked away a $20 bill in my wallet for Tyler to enjoy an ice cream cone or something small like that while we're on vacation.  I can't totally deprive the kid of those kinds of memories! 

Other Rules/Concessions to the Challenge:

* I am able to use gift cards that I already have in my posession for items that I need to buy.  For example, I have a couple hundred dollars in Target gift cards (my dad always buys them for me for my birthday and Christmas--LOVE IT!) that I can use if the need arises.  This is probably how I will pay for Tyler's school supplies.
* Any medical attention or medications needed by me or Tyler are completely exempt from the challenge.  I'm hoping that this won't be a problem, but I refuse to forgo or prolong medical treatment or necessary medications for myself or my son just to stay within this challenge. 

In order to stay true and so that you can follow my progress, I will post what my necessary expenditures are beyond my mortgage, utilities, and car.  For instance, I will post what my gas, food, etc, costs me for the week.  I'll post when a need to "buy" something comes up and how I either handled it by being resourceful and using what I already had or whether I ended up caving.  At the end of the month, I'll try to post what kind of savings I estimated to have realized simply by cutting out all of the "extras" for an entire month. 

Now, this kind of challenge is not necessarily something that can be sustained every single month.  Month after month.  I just happened to be lucky enough to find a month where there isn't a major expenditure coming up, a gift giving holiday, or any other looming financial burden that was already known about.  My goal from doing this challenge is to realize that I can/cannot live without.  Like I mentioned earlier, I was getting a little too lax about what I was buying and how often we *really* needed to be eating out.  Unfortunately, the "need" vs. "want" area was starting to become gray and now it's time to put it all back into perspective. 

So, can you/will you join the challenge with me?  What suggestions to you have for me to make it through the month?  What questions do you have that maybe I can try to answer for you?  Let's get through this together! 


  1. OHHHH great idea. I have noticed my spending is getting out of control and I need to keep myself in check. Since I am moving this month, this task seems completely impossible for me. I already have a target list started...but I think I should definitely do this once the move is over, say September?? GOOD LUCK!!

  2. I hear ya, SingleMama! Moving always tends to drain that wallet fast! Once you get in and settled, you'll have to try the challenge and see what things you can easily cut out of your monthly spending. Hopefully by that time, I'll have some really good insight/tips for you! I can already tell that this month is going to be tough on me, but if it helps to reduce that credit card balance, I'm all for it!

  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog today :) I enjoyed reading yours today! I love your ideas on money-saving. I work full-time, and go to school-full time, all while trying to save for a house one day. So I love seeing everyone's money saving tricks and tips. I'm new to this whole couponing thing, so I'd love to see what you do! I'm a new follower :)

  4. GI Joe said "knowing is half the battle" and I know that I suck at finances!!! It has been a guarded and secretive subject in my family... and that attitude has been passed down to me. Unfortunately for me... I am terrible with money- so it is clouded in shame too. I love the challenge... I need the inspiration... Thank you for your honesty about a subject that is sooo personal to me!

  5. Erin Marie, I too had a time where I was "terrible" with money. I was young, inexperienced in the real world. and thought that the little plastic card in my wallet was meant to buy me independence and happiness in the form of clothes, shoes, and stuff for my overly expensive apartment. Beffore I knew it, I found myself $14,000 in credit card debt with an annual income that was barely over that amount. If I can dig myself out of that hole, I'm confident that anyone can learn a little bit about how to manage their own finances. Stick around and see if you can pick up a few tips here and there from my blog. Also, check out the other blogs in my blogroll. Several of them are geared toward personal finance and I've really learned alot from them! Thanks for stopping by!


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