Monday, January 30, 2017

10 Free Things I Did During The Longest Month

~Of which I am inordinately proud~

January is always the longest month of the year. January is an opportunity (yes, let's call it that) to let our finances recover from Christmas, and for this year, to get on track for meeting some ambitious saving and giving goals. We might have one or two other spending freezes during the year, but January is guaranteed. We say to ourselves that we are not spending any money unless it's necessary. As far as 'necessary' goes, we ask ourselves how much do we need it? Can it wait till February? There isn't a whole lot that we need that can't wait: food, diapers and a payment for a beach vacation this summer summed it up. It's pretty miserly and not much fun at all, but I always know it's coming and I'd better make the most of it. This month, any time I did something that didn't cost us any money, I gave myself a mental pat on the back. I also took credit for some things Tim did. We're in this together.

If I see it all down in list form, I know I'm going to feel really proud of myself and maybe it will give me inspiration to do even better next January. So here goes -- things I did this month that were free or nearly free.

1) I (we) used gift cards. Christmas gift cards really take the edge off of no-spend January, and we typically get a couple Amazon gift cards between the two of us. Tim also got one for the Marine Corps Exchange, and he got himself some of his favorite Under Armour stuff as well as a Yeti mug that he's been complaining about incessantly, and spilling his coffee out of it left and right. I also earned $20 worth of Amazon gift cards through Swagbucks (my referral link). If I were smart, I'd have hoarded them all and waited till these last few unbearable days of the month to use them, but I don't have that kind of restraint. I don't even remember what I bought but it must have been good!

2) We did haircuts at home. Tim cuts his own hair and Timmy's, and when Joey gets a little bigger he'll do his too. (In the interest of full disclosure, I attempted to DIY Joey's haircut. I messed it up and it then became necessary to have my hairdresser fix it asap. My one frugal fail!)  Neither of the girls need haircuts right now, but I have given each of them a simple trim in the past. With a family our size we can save all kinds of money doing haircuts at home. Of course I spend enough money at my hair salon to more than make up for it, I guess. But not this month!

3) I decluttered and organized our stuff. I went room by room, closet by closet. I rediscovered a couple things I loved, such as the the colorful little rooster Tim brought back from Portugal. I found the perfect place to display it in our little office area. I filled up bags and boxes for Goodwill and a clothing swap. I took the kids clothing bins that had just a few things in them, and I condensed them into one or two. I took inventory of what kids' clothes we had, and what sizes and seasons they were. I got rid of nearly everything the girls outgrew, and of Timmy's outgrown clothes, I only saved the things I really, really like for Joey. I noted that we now have several empty storage bins, as I wasn't always one get rid of everything. But those empty bins will all be nice to have when we move this summer (to Japan, OMG!!), and they nest so they don't take up much space themselves.
Delaney didn't like it when I bought her soccer cleats that weren't pink, but I knew I was going to want to be able to pass them down to the boys.
4) I participated in a clothing swap. A friend down the street organized a clothing swap for women and kids. I found a lot of things my girls had outgrown or things of mine that weren't working out for me anymore, and brought them in. Then we all got to enjoy shopping for free, and everything not taken by the end of the night was donated. I struck out with kids' stuff; I couldn't find anything for them besides a couple pairs of shorts for Joey to grow into. But I got a few things for myself, my favorite being a black Old Navy vest that hadn't even been worn. Someone had bought it in the wrong size and hadn't bothered to return it. I contributed so much more than I ended up bringing home, and that's really a good thing.

5) We went to the Port Royal Maritime Center. The kids have many random days off throughout the year, and while I'm glad they have so many opportunities to recharge their batteries, I'm often at a loss as to what to do with them all day. Annie looked up this little place nearby on my phone and when I saw that admission was free and it got great reviews, I decided we'd give it a try. I'm so glad we did. It was just a tiny place, only a few rooms, and if we hadn't had the guided tour we probably would have only lasted there 15-20 minutes. But we had a volunteer who took us around and engaged the kids in discussions about the ecology of the Port Royal Sound, the history of the area and the amazing animals that live there. We all learned so much, and the kids even got to get hands on some of the animals. A typical big city aquarium experience doesn't compare to this.
We learned that the horseshoe crab has blue blood that is used in tests to make sure medical equipment is clean, so we don't get sick and die from routine medical procedures. The crab itself is unharmed and returned to the water.
Who remembers Flipper? This dolphin's story is rather sad.
6) I used the Navy digital library. I prefer reading an actual book whenever possible. I do not go to our local library downtown because you have to pay to park in the parking lot, and I don't believe in paying to park at the library, even if it is less than a dollar. (It is so irksome to need to go to the machine, use my credit card, and have it spit out a ticket that I have to go back and put on my dashboard. It's the library! The city needs to raise money some other way.) We have a library on base and we enjoy that but if I'm there for a specific book, a lot of times I'm out of luck. Especially if it's a newer, popular book or one that's being sought by several other people living here. I was glad to be able to download and read this month's book club selection right on my phone. I might have heard Amazon Prime has a digital library now too, and I'll have to look into that.

7) We did YouTube yoga. Tim and I are currently working through Adriene's Revolution: 31 Days of Yoga. I love it. She also has some good yoga for beginners and back pain yoga videos that have served us well these past few months. A lot of yoga instructors on YouTube have annoying mannerisms (especially to Tim), but Adriene reminds me of a good friend from high school -- down to earth, says 'y'all', and has a '90s pop lyric to go with just about every "lesson". It is silly and sometimes eye-roll-worthy, but it is serious yoga practice that is good for the body and good for the mind. Yoga should be fun.

9) I made my own decor and shopped the house for supplies. I made this Valentine banner using only stuff I'd scrounged up from around the house. The only thing hard to find were buttons. Annie gave me a shirt she said was too small that had six, and then I found sequins the same color from extra birthday party invitations I'd saved. I followed these instructions.
10) I ran with Stroller Warriors. It is a free running club for military spouses that has chapters all over the world. I don't take it for granted at all. When Delaney was a baby and we lived in Massachusetts, I joined Stroller Strides. A quick search of Quicken tells me that I paid $122 for a session which lasted a few weeks or a couple months to the best of my memory. I drove 40 minutes to the meetings once a week, and I remember gas being super expensive in summer 2008. It was worth it for me to get out and go running with other moms. Nowadays I am just as happy to run by myself or with Tim, but I do like to go to SW once a week. They are a fun, encouraging group of women. Being around them makes me want to set goals and not just be a lazy runner the way I'm inclined to be. (My most challenging runs are still with Tim, though. Just needed to throw that in there in case he was reading and thinking, 'But I help you set goals!')

It should go without saying, but I have to mention we've had no meals out, no coffees out, and no treats out. We only do these things a handful of times in a typical month anyway, so eliminating them altogether isn't too big a deal. I don't feel like we miss out on much at all, and when we finally do do those things again, we appreciate them more.

I am eagerly counting down until I can tell January "Don't let the door hit ya!" but I know that spending freeze months give me something invaluable. They take the focus off acquiring things, get me to take stock of what I have, appreciate the things that are right here in my backyard, and practice being grateful.

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