What to cut off from your budget for real savings

2018 has been a year dedicated to savings. We have gone out of debt in March, and I did not rest after that: I continued to cut off things of our budget, and we even had a (quite successful!) 3 months ‘No Spend Challenge’.

So here are the 5 main things I cut off from my budget in 2018!

1.       Hairdresser

That seems stupid, but with 4 people in our house, it’s quite a budget. I’ve been cutting my husband’s hair for a few years now, and that’s about €18 each month, so €216 ($245) a year!

Since January, I also cut my 2 daughters’ hair (twice a year, €15 each haircut) and my own (twice a year as well, about €40 each). That saves us €140 ($159) a year.

The only thing you will need is a decent pair of scissors for girls (and a few helpful tutorials on YouTube) and good hair clippers for boys! It’s a small investment that will be quickly worth it, and as an added bonus you get a new haircut in the comfort of your own home!

Annual savings: €356 ($404)

 

2.       Takeout/restaurants

We used to order from our local Japanese restaurant once a week – with two children date nights are at home 99% of the time, and we figured it was a nice way to enjoy some couple time while feeling as if we were going out. Not only did that habit filled our garbage bin with plastic containers, but it also cost us at least €25 a week. Not really worth it, isn’t it? We replaced this expensive and plastic-laden date night with some special home cooked meals, like spicy food that the children don’t like for example. We allow ourselves one family outing every once in a while, that’s really enjoyed because it’s a treat!

Annual savings: €1.200 ($1,361)

 

3.       Cable subscription

Who needs this? Nobody, that’s who. In the age of Netflix and streaming, cable subscriptions are outdated. We still paid for it in our internet/TV/landline package. We cancelled it: we have Netflix, we borrow DVDs from the library, and we only watch regular TV maybe twice a month (and then we lament about the insane amount of advertisement).

Annual savings: €120 ($136)

 

4.       Fancy debit card

We travelled to the USA in 2015, and let us be talked into subscribing a fancy debit card that was supposed to be safer and to offer more insurance. Only thing is, we have since kept it, and it’s not something we need at all. We asked our bank to switch back to a much cheaper and still perfectly suited Visa card.

Annual Savings: €100 ($113)

 

5.       Buying lunch on workdays

I had this bad habit of buying myself lunch at the grocery store next to my kids’ school instead of taking a bagged lunch from home about twice a week… I now always pack lunch (often leftovers and a piece of fruit) instead. It’s cheaper, healthier, tastier, and more environmentally-friendly.

Annual Savings: €600 ($680)

 

Those 5 little things amount to a whopping €2392 ($2714) per year. Isn’t that crazy? Some habits seem really inconsequential (when I bought lunch instead of making it, it cost me about €7 each time for example). But when you start to calculate how much it costs you per year, you really realize that small expenses make a big difference.

 

I would add on tip that has proven really helpful to avoid unnecessary expenses: unsubscribe to all email and text newsletter/ads from brands. All. Not only will that successfully declutter your inboxes, but it will also allow you to avoid temptation. Sales & special offers may seem like a bargain, but the best bargain is always not to buy.

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Why morning people are in fact evening planners

I’m a morning person. I’ve never slept late, even in my teens, and have trouble staying up very late (that part doesn’t get easier with age & children, let me tell you). So rising early isn’t an issue for me at all.

Which didn’t prevent me from having hectic mornings, especially as a mom who’s alone on mornings 75% of the time. I’ve never been really late at work, but I’ve often come in irritated and flustered by that damn morning rush. I considered rising earlier, but it didn’t change much. I hadn’t time for anything, I was snapping at my kids to get them to hurry, and I was super frustrated with my inability to be more effective.

 Until I found out what the secret was, and since I’m feeling super generous, I’m going to share it with you.

 The secret to having calm, relaxed, and productive mornings doesn’t happen in the morning at all. It actually depends on what you do – or don’t do – on the evenings. I now rise at the same time than before – around 6:30am – but I have time to meditate, have an enjoyable breakfast with my children, help them get ready for school, get myself ready while they have a bit of time to play or read, and all that without any rushing. My morning routine depends in fact on my evening routine! So what do I do in the evenings that allows me to have stress-less mornings?

 –          Prepare my clothes and the clothes of my children. I check the weather forecast, and chose the outfits accordingly. No more time-consuming decision-making in the morning!

–          Prepare my lunchbox (and eventually that of my husband) while I make dinner. This way I only have to take the Tupperware out of the fridge before leaving the next day. Sometimes I simply make more of whatever dish we have for dinner!

–          Clean up the living-room and the kitchen before going to bed. I usually also use this time to set up the breakfast table (I actually picked up that habit from my mother!)

–          Have my children schoolbags and my handbag ready next to the front door.

–          Wash my hair. That might not be relevant if you have short hair, but I have long hair that needs quite a bit of care. Washing them in the evening on workdays is certainly more efficient!

–          Cover my car during winter – really worth it when it’s freezing!

–          Last but not least: prepare and program my coffee machine, so that it’s brewing when I wake up. It’s not essential, but it’s a nice plus!

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That’s our cat napping. As all cats, she’s neither a morning or an evening person. She sleeps 20 hours a day not matter what.

It’s really that simple. Your evening routine will of course change depending on your lifestyle, family and needs – but it’s really the secret to have better and more enjoyable mornings.

 One last tip: give up on screens on mornings. No TV, no social media. There’s nothing more time-sucking than that. You can eventually have a time for reading the news on your phone or tablet, but time it carefully – for example, while your coffee brews – and then put your device away.

I hope this is helpful for you! I wish you some happy and serene mornings. As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

 

The Benefits of a Feature Phone in Today’s Smartphone Dominated World

An interesting take on smartphones and the way we use – or abuse – them.

Martin A. Coleman

(A re-post from February 2016. It is from my old blog and still relevant.)

It’s not really that much fun experiencing a slight panic as your modern smartphone warns you about the pending dead battery status as you scramble to get that charger to a power point, but it’s the price we pay, isn’t it? I’ll admit, I enjoy having a phone, camera, GPS, games console and mini computer available in my pocket and in that regard life is simpler with just one device, but it’s also more complicated and offers a single point of failure. Which is why I’m starting to like feature phones more and more.

First and most obvious is the

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Greed

The ocean eats the land

(Flat screens and cars)

Where will they go now?

 

Nothing more to fish

(Coffee cups and sushi)

Nothing to make a living

 

No rain, and no hope

(Golf greens and beef)

The Earth so dry it cracks

 

Heatwaves like hellfire

(AC till you freeze)

Or floods like Noah’s

 

Rivers with deadly foam

(so many cool sneakers)

Amidst fields of cotton

 

‘It’s now’, they say, ‘it’s now!

Why do we pay for your sins?’

But… oh, wait, it’s Black Friday!

 

11.10.2018

On safety and growing-up

On Sunday morning, I gave my daughters a €5 bill, left them at the merry-go-round in front of the farmers’ market, and went to buy my veggies, fruit and cheeses as usual, dragging my blue trolley behind me (with the obligatory freshly baked baguette strapped on top of it, because, hello, French person here).

They came back not even 10 minutes later, proud as peacocks, and got to keep the €1 coin that was left. Everything was peachy.

Except that I was met with the incredulous stare of the guy that sells exotic produce and as such has been providing me with mangoes, passion fruits and sweet potatoes for the past 12 years, when he asked where my kids were and I pointed to the flashy Scoobidoo helicopter thingy my girls were riding with obvious enthusiasm (‘we were chasing poachers and saving wildlife, mom’).

‘But, their dad is with them, right?’ he asked, looking frantic. I told him that no, their dad was working. He replied that ‘I should be more careful’, and everyone in the line looked at me, or so it felt. I held my ground – I can be stubborn and forget about my social anxiety when I’m wired up enough – and told him that we did things that were way more risky when we were kids, and that no one found it weird at the time. He then proceded to tell me how the world was so much more dangerous now than then (which is factually untrue, in France criminality has been stable since the 80-90’s, which is exactly when we both were kids). I told him it wasn’t true, that we were just way more paranoid than before, and he shrugged, unconvinced, while giving me that ‘you do as you wish’ answer that always seems to mean ‘something will happen and I will say “I told you so”. I could apparently as well have let them ride their bikes on the highway, helmetless, and at night.

So, let’s analyze this situation, just to check what a terrible mother I am, shall we?

My children, who are not toddlers, but 9 and 6yo girls, were left at a merry-go-round for children in a place that they’ve known since they were babies, to take a ride. What can happen during the ride? Not much, especially considering how old my kids are. In fact my oldest has trouble fitting in the damn thing now.

So what? I could bloody see them from the market if I wanted to – I even waved to them once. They were, what, 50 meters away, tops. They didn’t even have to cross a road to find me after their ride. They were together, and know to look after each other. We live in a quiet suburban town – criminality here mostly involves people breaking in older cars to steal GPS devices and dicks drawn on public benches by bored teens. I suppose the risk he was thinking about was kidnapping, however unlikely it might be, and I taught my kids what to do if something like that happened.

I do think that the risks were close to zero, to be honest, and I was very surprised at the reaction of this guy, that seems otherwise quite laid-back and has three teenagers of his own. I talked about the ‘incident’ with my husband, and he recognized that himself was quite paranoid, especially for someone who spent his childhood playing in his cul-de-sac with his neighbours, without any kind of supervision…

I didn’t thought about it at the time, but I also wonder if that man’s reaction would have been different if my children had been boys – it might not be conscious, but we often seem to think it’s normal for boys to enjoy more freedom that girls – even considering how little freedom our children now have anyway.

Toddler girl with a plaster on her grazed knee with a sad face drawn on it

I am trying to help my children grow into independant, resilient adults, that are able to deal with the world around them. I think that letting them deal with small amounts of money, getting the change, asking politely for what they want, on their own, is part of that. When I was 8 or 9 I started to go to the bakery or the small convenience store around the corner on my own. I was very proud of it, too. But with the kind of reaction I faced on Sunday for something so mundane, I’m left wondering about the kind of society we are now living in. Are we really so afraid of everything? Are we teaching our children that they can’t deal on their own, that the world is a terrifying place where they need their parents with them every minute of every day? When does that stop? Once they’re teens? Once they’re 18? 21 for Americans? How do they deal then, if they never had the chance to experience anything before? Aren’t we setting up our kids for failure that way?

And more than that, if we never teach them how to deal with things, aren’t we exposing them to danger even more, because they won’t know how to react if they’re ever confronted to a situation where we’re not there, endlessly hovering to save them from scrapped knees and evil merry-go-rounds?

I might not be ready to send my kids alone on public transportation as Lenore Skenazy (see here ) or Adrian Crook ( here!! ) do, but I will do my best to let them try new things, let them test their wings as best as I can, for I do wish them to leave the nest confidently one day.

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

Peppermint & Chocolate

There’s a quiet kind of joy

That sweeps us off our feet

A ticking clock that soothes

The anxiety in our minds

There’s strength and warmth

But more embers than fire

Ours is such an easy dance

Amazing grace and loving hands

Count your blessings, they say,

And we have got more than enough

Count your blessings, we smile,

For there might be only today

There’s a quiet kind of love

That only whispers to our ears

The clock still ticks the time away

And soon enough we will be grey

There will be tears and hurricanes

So many lines around our eyes

But our love will smell the same

Like peppermint and chocolate

 

25.09.2018

Practical guide to no-spend challenges, how to survive them, and how to benefit from them

My family and I are doing a 3 months no-spend challenge. We are already living in a manner that many would consider frugal, even if we don’t see it that way, but I wanted to really push it, and see what we could do to spend even less.

So, where to begin?

 

1) Think about it beforehand

That might sound boring, but it’s really important.

What is the area where you tend to slip more easily? Are there exceptions to the no-spend rule? For us, it was shoes for the children – they grow up fast and I knew I would have to buy some sooner or later. How long do you want the challenge to last?

It can also be motivating to write your budget down in order to see what amount of money you could save each month.

2) Get your partner on board

If you’re married or living with someone, discuss it with them! Explain the concept, why you want to give it a go, and ask them what they think about it. It won’t work if your partner isn’t at all inspired by the idea, so it’s better to allow some more exceptions than to have to give up on the whole thing because you didn’t take your partner’s wishes into account.

3) Focus on your goal

Why are you doing it? Do you want to save enough money to do an early repayement of your student loan or your mortgage? Travel? Refurbish a room? Fund an emergency account? Having a precise goal wilp help you to stay on track.

4) It’s the little things!

Believe it or not, that coffee you are getting every morning does make a difference. Bring your own lunch to work, and your own travel mug already filled with coffee. Walk or bike as much as possible to save on travel expenses. Invite your friends for dinner instead of meeting at a restaurant. Don’t get takeaway meals – just cook something with whatever is already in your pantry. It doesn’t seem like much, but all together, it adds up quickly.

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5) Prepare to fail

Because you will. And that’s ok.

I bought some second-hand toys in prevision of Christmas last week. I hesitated, I thought about it, and finally, I bought them. I don’t really regret it, since I’m not sure I would have found the same toys in a few months. What’s done is done anyway, there’s no use dwelling on it! You trip, you fall, you dust yourself and go on!

6) Boost your result

Take the no-spend challenge as an opportunity to take a good look at your possessions. Ok, you’re not buying new ones… but are those you already have adding value to your life, to paraphrase the Minimalists? Have you used that cotton candy machine or watched that DVD recently? Have you worn that dress? If not, maybe you could sell them, hence boosting your final savings, and making space in your life for more interesting things than… well, stuff.

7) Have fun with it!

Such a challenge can be a breath of fresh air in your household. You will begin to think of activities for your family that are free. What about a nice walk in the woods? What about cooking together? What about a board game evening? What about having some pop corn and watching a movie, all bundled up together on the couch? Enjoy the newfound space in your home since you’ve sold junk and not bought anymore. Use the art supplies that are gathering dust on a shelf.

There’s no reason why such a challenge couldn’t be fun!

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.

On passion and being good enough

A little while ago, I wrote about my pathetic running and how we were constantly told that our hobbies weren’t worth it if we didn’t excel at them.

Today I wrote a small poem – as usual with me, quite out of the blue – and tweeted it before I could think too much about it. I knew I would find it ridiculously bad as soon as my finger would hit ‘send’.

Which got me thinking. Writing is a real passion for me. I’ve been writing forever – I guess as soon as I could. Songs, poems, short stories, novels – even a fair number of fanfictions – and blog posts. In French and in English. I carry a small notebook with me because sometimes I need to write an idea down so badly, right now, that I cannot function normally until I’ve actually written it down.

I am so convinced that I am not good enough, that I don’t even try. I never tried to get published. I never even managed to finish a single novel – because that would mean having a finished work that I could actually submit, and the thought of it terrifies me. I pretend to have writer’s block when in fact, I know that I’m perfectly capable of getting to the end of the damn thing.

The question is, do we need to be perfect to share our creations with the world? Perhaps not. Maybe we just need our creations to get out there and to touch people. If even one person is moved, laughs, cries, gets to think because of something we created, isn’t that already something great?

And if we don’t expose ourselves to critique, to feedback, how can we ever hope to grow and get better at whatever we like to do? How can we know if what we create is indeed of value to others, if others never get to see it?

It is scary to expose ourselves in such a way – we put so much of ourselves if what we create, that we fear rejection and critiques as much as if we asked people to judge our whole being. But it’s what creating is about, too.

I’ve always hoped I could, one day, be an author. As a child, I imagined my future as such. And then real life came along, and I looked with some derision at that childhood’s dream, as if the adult I had become could not believe they once had thought about something so unachievable.

I didn’t stop writing, though. And perhaps that was my clue all along, that I had, in fact, never truly given up. I don’t know if I will one day get published or not. I still don’t know if I’m good enough, and maybe I will never know. But I will never convince myself again that it’s not worth trying.

Next time someone asks me “so, what do you do?”, I’ll tell them that I am a writer. Because that is what I am, what I’m the most passionate about, what I want to do day after day – and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t pay the bills – yet.

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind – and be passionate. Until next time.

Soulbrother

We’re the ones that got away
With no regrets – just emptiness
Soulbrother, where are you now?

It was too rough but far too sweet
And addictions find us easy
Soulbrother, where are you now?

Troubled soul, troubled mind
Such a mess we left behind
Soulbrother, where are you now?

There was war, there was pain
It all echoed across the sea
Soulbrother, where are you now?

Ink and booze and empathy
The memories won’t keep us warm
Soulbrother, just keep standing

Got a freckle on my shoulder
You have to know it’s a token
Soulbrother, I’ll keep watch

Storms and rains coming our way
And we’ll weather them just alright
Soulbrother, here comes the end

We raise our glasses to this life
It was so good while it lasted

Soulbrother… where are you now?

 

12.09.2018

On convenience, effort and pride

Is convenience fueling our ever-deeper dissatisfaction? Sometimes I think that it does.

Don’t get me wrong. As a mother of two, I am more than grateful to have running water, electricity, and a washing machine. There is no denying that modern comfort is a blessing, and I hope that these things can soon benefit every family in the world.

That being said, how much convenience is too much? And how does it impact our feeling of self-worth and our general well-being?

Take cooking for example. It’s in fact convenient to get a frozen meal, pop it in the microwave and eat it. But it’s not rewarding in any way, is it? You bought it, and ate it. Now if you cook the same meal, the result is far different – even if it may not appear so on the surface. You will have bought the ingredients, cooked the dish, and then eaten it. Some can say you will have lost precious time with the cooking part. But have you, really? Or have you gained another kind of time, spent doing something by yourself, and then enjoying the result of your labour? Perhaps even thinking of ways to improve your dish, or how far you’ve come already if you couldn’t cook all that well before.

There’s pride in doing things by yourself that can’t be found in buying them. Whether it’s gardening, cooking, repairing appliances or cars, sewing, building furniture, chopping wood, there’s a feeling of accomplishment and pride that goes hand in hand with the effort required to achieve the result. In a world where much of our jobs aren’t concrete in the sense of directly producing something, we find comfort in doing things by ourselves in our homes, regardless of how inconvenient it might seem at first glance. There’s an amount of effort (and in some cases, physical exertion) that is beneficial to us, and that we are lacking for the most part.

As a society, we’re chronically depressed, unsatisfied, in search of purpose and meaning. Learning a craft, no matter how pointless it may appear when you can buy the stuff for cheap from your couch and have it delivered at your door, is a simple way to feel more accomplished, more proud of yourself. It allows you to realize that you can take a little independance from the system – and it has a reassuring effect, too. If shit hits the fan, you will have basic skills that might come in handy (I might have read too many dystopia novels and watched too many zombie movies, but, well. You know what I mean!)

Get up and go fix that damn sink. Repair your shirt. Plant tomatoes. Try to bake bread. Harvest wild berries or mushrooms. Change your car oil.
The rewards will far exceed the time you’ll spend doing this, I promise. And as a side bonus, you will save money – it might help you travel, go out of debt, rent a better house. Win-win scenario, really!

As always, be well, be thankful, be kind. Until next time.