I didn’t have a plan as such for this conscious living quest. I just wanted to turn my attention to areas of life where I’d drifted into doing things habitually, and make sure what I was doing was what I would choose to do if I thought about it properly.
One of those areas is spending money. This might not seem to fit with the ethical idea behind the conscious living quest, but it does. It’s about making sure the things I’m spending money on are the things I want to be spending money on.
We never had much money when I was young, and I learned the value of it early on. At the age of 13 I started work in a paper shop, and stayed there, working at the weekend, until I went to university. I loved having my own money, and at 14 I saved for a whole year to buy my own flute (it cost £400, which took a fair bit of saving!). My mum was wise (and frugal) – she’d buy basic toiletries with the weekly shopping, but if I wanted anything fancy or different, I had to buy it myself. (She adopted a similar attitude when I turned vegetarian at the age of 16).
I don’t remember ever feeling deprived as a child, and only rarely as an adult. I’ve tried very hard never to think ‘I can’t afford that [fabulous new coat/ holiday/ giant posh house]’ but instead to think ‘I could afford it if I [spent ten years working full time/ moved into a smaller house/ didn’t buy grapes for 2 months]’. Invariably, I end up content with what I already have.
The job I have now is better paid than anything I’ve ever done before. I just did two days a week at first, and while I was pretty frugal, I managed. When I started working full time, I vowed I’d only spend what I’d earned for two days a week, and put the rest straight into a savings account.
It worked for a while. I built up the savings account, and an emergency fund, and a cheery fund for holidays. And as the months passed, and I realised more and more that working full time does not suit me at all, I started grabbing a cup of tea on the train occasionally, or getting the bus into town instead of walking, or having lunch in a cafe at the weekend. Only small things, but things I’d not really even thought about much before. More months passed, and those things became habits.
And so, last week, I found myself with only £5 in the bank and two weeks until payday. Hmm. In my case not a problem as there’s plenty of money sat in the emergency fund, but this wasn’t really the ’emergency’ I’d had in mind…
I spent Friday with two friends I met through a money saving website. I spent a lot of time there in the past, and learned some good habits, like keeping track of my spending. I don’t do this all the time, but I have done for the last three months. On Friday Robyn suggested I go back through what I’d written.
It’s not that surprising really. A lot of what I spend goes on food. Almost the same amount on travel to work. Other high spending categories are non-work categories (both diesel and trains), flute lessons, and tea and cake and lunch in nice cafes.
Where to start making changes? I’m not in debt, and I earn above the average wage. As soon as I’m paid I put money into my savings account, and also the emergency fund and holiday fund. I realise I’m in a privileged position of not having to economise the way I’ve had to in the past. This is where the conscious living idea comes in – if I step back and think about it, what would I like to be spending my money on?
I won’t be giving up tea and cake any time soon, don’t worry, although I could adopt another lovely friend’s suggestion of taking a flask and a picnic and eating near a cafe occasionally. I also won’t be giving up my fortnightly flute lessons. I enjoy these things, and don’t mind spending money on them. But there are other things I spend money on that don’t add much to the pleasure of my life, and they can go.
I have to travel to work – but if I walked to the station rather than getting the bus I’d get a bit more exercise and save about £25 a month. I often buy lunch in the canteen on the days I’m in the office – if I made my own lunch instead I’d easily save another £25, if not more. I like to buy fruit and veg at the local greengrocers, but often end up dashing into the small (expensive) supermarket too. If I planned a little more, made a shopping list, maybe did a bit of batch cooking, I could probably shave another £25 a month without even noticing.
All this is a very long winded way of saying I found myself in the kitchen last night boiling dried beans, batch cooking rice for the freezer, and making bread and muffins and rhubarb jam. I used to cook dried beans all the time, and got out of the habit – time to get back into it I think. My bread making leaves a lot to be desired, but I’m hoping a bit of practice might mean a passable loaf eventually.
The muffins were a special treat. The recipe comes courtesy of Robyn, although I confess I made a few changes. I used sultanas instead of apricots, added sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and a chopped bramley apple that was going a little soft. I realised once they were in the oven that I hadn’t put any oil in at all, but they don’t seem any the worse for it.
I’m not going to start obsessing about money. I very much like Cheri’s attitude of ‘I have more than enough for my needs’ abundance. But I am going to start spending consciously – making sure that what I’m buying is what I want to be buying.
I’ll be joining in with Robyn’s Frugal Friday series (hopefully on a Friday from now on!) for a little while to keep track. Why don’t you join in too?