Moratorium on Micromanaging Money

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week and I celebrated it in grand style! I took the day off from work. I had almonds in my oatmeal instead of walnuts. I went to the grocery store and found a mango on the clearance rack…in a bag of organic apples, no less! I picked up my free treat from Starbucks and gave it to my mom (which made her very happy). I watched a short documentary on stuff, went for a brisk walk in the cold, and worked on a puzzle with the love of my life. I even had my favorite dinner – pizza – and a big slice of homemade birthday cake for dessert. It was epic and I’m not kidding.

You see, I connect with simple in a way that defies explanation. The fact that my mom wrapped my gift in a piece of paper that she saved from a gift she received two years ago, the fact that she took nearly 3 hours to scratch bake me a yellow cake with chocolate icing (my childhood favorite), the fact that Angie ordered our take-and-bake pizza without cheese so I could put my own non-dairy cheese on it and she used a coupon, means more to me than any elaborate birthday celebration ever could. These little things show that my family gets me and if that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is.

Now it’s time to start getting myself.

Besides taking the day off, I decided to give myself another birthday gift. I decided to call a moratorium on micromanaging our money. In looking back over the past few years, I realized that I had inadvertently given money a more powerful position in our lives than I had intended. I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with Excel spreadsheets, envelope systems, and budgeting apps; but more importantly, we were side-hustling part of our time away and investing our income in companies that thrive off the very things we are trying to remove from our lives. This hasn’t set well with me for a long time, so I decided it was time to take some steps to reconcile it.

Thus, the moratorium. Which does not mean that I plan to be oblivious to what’s going in and out of our bank account. That would be irresponsible. It simply means that I don’t intend to obsess over money – chasing it, spending it, or saving it – until I know where it fits into our life.

To make sure I don’t break down and break out the budget apps, I’ve set all our monthly expenses to auto-draft and have allocated $510 per month for personal cash, gas, groceries/household goods, and entertainment. This will be ALL the flexible spending cash we receive, so in a way, I suppose we’re also doing a version of the no-spend year (though that was not our main intention). There will be no income-generating side hustles this year. I moved all our investments into two vehicles – our personal IRAs and U.S. savings bonds. No matter what the market does, I do not intend to manage these accounts more than once or twice this year (instead of weekly like I was doing when we owned individual stocks and ETFs).

What do I hope to accomplish by this hands-off approach to personal finance? Peace of mind. A better connection to the world outside of money. Greater resourcefulness. The pride that comes from being able to figure things out without throwing dollars at the solution. Increased contact with real people. Better bartering skills. I believe the possibilities are endless; and for as much as spreadsheets once excited me, the idea of living without one is even more exciting.

Do you have ever feel that money management plays too great a role in your life? Do you ever struggle to align your spending with your personal beliefs and values?

Less time balancing finances means more time to concentrate on what’s really important.
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The Heat is OFF

I’ll never forget the winter of 2017-18. It was cold INSIDE.

Outside, the temperatures were average for our area – mid-30s in the daytime, teens and 20s at night, with occasional bursts of sunshine boosting us into the 50s. We had some ice, a bit of snow, but nothing compared to the wintry weather our friends in Colorado and Minnesota were experiencing. Yet, inside our apartment, we had icicles on the bedroom window, with the central heat unit running constantly to no avail. When my mom came over for her birthday last January, it was so cold inside that she wore her coat the entire time. She even had me stand on a chair to feel the cold air coming from the vents in the ceiling. It was not a fun time to say the least.

A year ago, maintenance checked our unit and said it was running fine. They concluded that the cold air was due to the outside unit itself being cold, which supposedly restricts airflow. I attribute it to poor building maintenance. Our apartment was built in the 90s. The duct work is probably leaking. But I’m no HVAC repair woman so we decided to handle matters our own way.

When the temperatures started dropping in October, we challenged ourselves to see how long we could go without turning on the heat unit. Instead, we used two of these little guys:

We thought the space heaters would buy us a few extra weeks without turning on the heat. We never expected that they would work so well that 3 months later, we’re still using them as our primary source of heat.

We have two 1500W forced-air space heaters that cost $10 each. We use one in the living room when we are home and one in the bedroom/bathroom as needed throughout the day. Neither runs constantly. When the inside temperature reaches 71 degrees, we turn them off. When it dips below 68, we turn them on. So far, we have not used either heater while we’re sleeping at night, though Angie turns the bedroom heater on about 30 minutes before we get up to knock off the chill. The lowest overnight temperature (outside) so far this year has been 17 degrees. That same night, our indoor temp dropped just 7 degrees (from 71 when we went to bed to 64 when we woke up). When my mom came for Christmas, it got so warm inside that we had to open the back door. It was 40 degrees outside and no heat was on inside.

Not only are we not freezing to death inside our apartment this year, we’re actually comfortable. Angie is not wearing her beanie to watch TV this winter and I don’t have a thermal layer on under my jeans. We did add a 2nd blanket to our bed but other than that, no special accommodations have been made to stay warm. We’re simply capitalizing on some heat-generating aspects that we never thought to consider before. For example, we’re on the 2nd floor of a 3-story building, making us the “sandwich” apartment. We are insulated by the apartments above and below, which helps us maintain our temperature longer. Also, by cooking dinner every night, we can raise the temp by 1-2 degrees (and have a delicious meal to boot!).

Our experiment primarily started as a way to avoid turning on the inefficient central heat unit. We weren’t thinking about saving money or reducing our carbon footprint at the time, but the byproduct of our effort is that we did both. Our energy bill dropped by 13% and we reduced our carbon footprint by 20%. We’re pretty happy about that! Almost as happy as we are about my mom’s sudden interest in recycling plastics. Oh yes, that happened this month too. After years of picking on us for recycling everything, she suddenly one day started sending me home with her empty plastics to take to recycling. 2019 might just be the year for miracles after all!

All kidding aside, even the smallest things can make a big impact when it comes to saving money and saving our planet.