abundantlifevegan

Spiritual Musings, Creative Inspiration, and Simple Vegan Recipes


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How I survived (Sort of….) my 6 month Spending Fast

It has been a very long time since I posted, but I have several excuses! I took a long break from technology and social media (a much needed fast for me) throughout much of March and April. Then in May I got a new job, and to put it mildly, the schedule was utterly insane.

Somehow, the end of my 6 month Spending Fast crept up on me (almost) without my realizing. The good news, is that the fast was not nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be.  I imagined myself never “having fun,” always turning friends down, feeling bored at the house, etc. This wasn’t the case at all! (More on that in a moment). The bad news is that I did cheat (partially out of necessity) a few times.

Here is what went well. I LOVED making DIY gifts. I made homemade sugar scrubs, cloth bowls, jellies, granola, and an earring holder for my sister. I managed to find simple and inexpensive ways to  give gifts, which of course was great. But, even DIY costs money of course– and you have to budget time to do it. Still, it was well worth it and I plan to keep doing at least some DIY gifts in the future.

Cosmetics were another area that went better than expected. I made my own facial exfoliator using 2 ingredients– leftover coffee grounds and olive oil. It worked even better than store bought. I also tried to go “poo-less”— (the popular baking soda method, just google it and you’ll see)— but this was not right for my hair at all. I just looked greasy and smelled like biscuits all the time.

I also tried to make my own shampoo with water and castile soap and essential oils. Nope. Made my scalp itch like mad. Did not cut it. I ended up finding a good deal on my trusted Avalon Organics shampoo and conditioner and went back to buying it from the bottle. At least the bottle is “now more eco-friendly”…whatever that means!

I successfully avoided Etsy.com and modcloth.com (probably the most difficult part for me)– but when I got my new job, I needed to purchase a few more “business casual” clothing items and a laptop. Both of these were unexpected, but since they were work-related, I let them slide, although I felt some guilt about it.

Eating out, entertainment, groupons, etc. all turned out to be no big deal. We had friends over for lunch, or we had them over to play games, or I met friends for yoga or walks, etc. I did “cheat” on the coffee shops. I had a set budget for our groceries, I used cash weekly. And anything leftover was allowed to be used for the occasional coffee or bite to eat. A friend suggested that early in the fast and I am really glad she did!

But here is my biggest cheat. The fancy fitness classes I wasn’t supposed to buy? I bought a 15 class pack at Sync Studio (Cycling, Yoga and Circuit Training) just a few months into the fast. I love working out there. I again felt some guilt at first, but in the end I don’t regret it. I go there once a week as a treat to myself, and I think that sweating my butt off at 5:45 am because I enjoy it is worth the investment in my health and happiness.

At the end of the fast I didn’t find myself feeling deprived, or needing to get everything on my Amazon.com wishlist. In fact, I felt like my husband and I had created a lifestyle that we could sustain. I DID splurge on a “veggie spiralizer” and a new cookbook from Amazon when the fast was complete, AND another class pass card to Sync Studio. But that was it. We plan to stick with a grocery budget and do DIY as much as possible for gifts. About once a month we have a special date and go to eat out or see some local entertainment, again very manageable. Still no TV, still avoiding Whole Foods, heading to the library instead of Amazon.

The best feeling was how much of our debt we were able to pay off. It was incredibly gratifying each month to see the balance go DOWN, instead of hovering at the same place month after month. No numbers will be shared, but if we can keep up the “spending diet” we should have all educational debt eliminated within the next 2 years, which for us would be a huge accomplishment.

My Top 5 tips if you want to try a spending fast or “diet”—>

1) Don’t deplete your savings to try and eliminate debt! You never know when the car will break down or the roof will leak and you need some extra reserves. (Both of these happened to us!)

2) Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to meet for dinner or lunch at home, or go for a walk, or just spend time together. Chances are they want to as well.

3) When something breaks or seems to be working improperly, try to explore all your options before rushing out and buying something new. During the fast my watch broke, and instead of getting a new one, I discovered an old one and had it repaired for a fraction of the cost. Our washer was malfunctioning, but a few Google searches helped us solve the problem and continue using the one we have now.

4) Use cash whenever possible, especially for groceries and household items. This was probably the most helpful tool for me. If I went in with a set amount of money to use, obviously I was making more economical choices. And no, this doesn’t mean buying unhealthy foods or processed crap. It does mean buying more locally, purchasing bulk foods and checking out ethnic food stores for spices and herbs.

5) Auto debit is your friend. Oh, and mint.com. Setting up a monthly recurring transfer of my paycheck to pay off debt AND to go into savings takes all the thinking and work out of saving and eliminating debt. I highly recommend this if you don’t already do it. And mint.com is a fantastic budgeting tool,  free and has a decent phone app as well.

So, I survived and thrived and lived to tell about my 6 month Spending Fast. I would love to hear your feedback, and tips and tricks you might have for living simply and being more frugal.


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Trail Running, Meditation and Homemade Chocolate

January has been a good month for me so far.  Along with sticking to a spending fast, I have also set a goal to return to a consistent meditation practice, as well as return to running (albeit in a different and way) than I have in the past.

Meditation is a practice that I have dabbled with for about two years now. In the past I have been consistent for a little while, then life would get busy—and I wouldn’t prioritize it any more. I know that I am a calmer, more grounded person when meditation is a regular part of my routine. I know that I am a sweeter wife and a more effective therapist when I simply start my day with deep breathing.

I have tried a few different practices, but finally two weeks ago—I found the key that makes meditation work for me.  I had the opportunity to attend a one day workshop on mindfulness, where I was introduced to the “gatha.”

In case you don’t know, gathas are short poems or verses that we can recite, regardless of where we are, to help us return to the present moment and to dwell in mindfulness. I finally found one that worked for me, and using this gatha as I meditate has helped me be consistent in my meditation for 10 days—the longest I have sustained a practice in quite some time.

The gatha I use is this:

Breathing in, I calm my body

Breathing out, I smile

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment!

 

At the training we learned to practice like this, as you breathe say the words in parentheses silently:

Inhale (in)

Exhale (calm)

Inhale (out)

Exhale (smile)

Inhale (present)

Exhale (wonderful)

There are of course many variations of this, explained in Thich Nhat Hanh’s lovely little book, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment. I have found this little volume invaluable as I learn to practice mindfulness in my daily life. I am also learning that having a seated meditation practice is key for creating mindfulness in life. The other crucial piece has been choosing to meditate first thing in the morning, (rather than playing on my phone or on the internet, my usual morning routine!) Deepak Chopra calls this the “RPM” method—rise, pee, mediate. Trust me, it works. Some days I rise, pee, mediate, mindfully drink a cup of coffee, than meditate. But I am sitting, and practicing, and I can feel the difference.

One of the unexpected ways that my mindfulness helped me, was this past Saturday when I ran a 10 mile trail race—the first race I had done in nearly 3 years. It was a very cold, windy morning and I was wondering why I even signed up when we were waiting to start. As we started running, navigating single track trails, and alone with each other and the breath, I found myself reciting the gatha. And each step that I took was wonderful. I realized I had to focus as I ran in much the same way that I do when meditating. Each step, each breath, was something new. A new root, a new rock, a fresh patch of mud met me at my every step. I finished strongly (although I am not sure of my place or time—practicing some non-attachment with that!), and most importantly felt present throughout the entire run. I am eager to sign up for another trail race and practice my new favorite form of moving meditation.

One final piece to share—on my spending fast I challenged myself to make my own chocolate instead of buying the expensive “Endangered Species” chocolate bars I usually favor. I figured I could save money and probably make it healthier too. Enter the world’s easiest and healthiest homemade chocolate!

Dark Pecan Chocolate Bars

Ingredients:

½ cup cocoa (unsweetened)

½ cup coconut oil

1/3 cup coconut nectar

1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. In a small pan, over medium heat, heat cocoa and coconut oil. Once combined, stir in coconut nectar.
  2. Once combined remove from heat and stir pecans in the mixture.
  3. Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, pour mixture into the pan, and spread with a spatula.
  4. Place entire pan in freezer, and let harden for at least one hour.
  5. Remove, slice and enjoy!

I recommend storing these in the freezer if possible, I had to store mine in the back so I wouldn’t eat them all at once. You could easily sub 1 cup of any chopped nuts you would like, or add dried fruit, coconut, etc.

Happy January friends. Enjoy deep breaths, time outside, and plenty of chocolate until we meet again!

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Month One—Spending Fast in Review + Intentions for the New Year

One month into my spending fast, and I have to admit, I am loving it. It seriously feels GOOD to be able to put a little bit more money into paying off debt. But there was a part of me that felt guilty giving people DIY gifts at Christmas, especially when they had already purchased things for me. It wasn’t that there was anything “wrong” with the gifts I had made, but it seemed “unequal” in a sense. The truth is that everyone LOVED the things I made them— and I had A LOT of fun making Christmas gifts. There was equal love, even if not equal cost. Here’s a recap of how I did it—>

I reserved a little time on the weekend, usually Sunday afternoon, to devote to gift making and I really enjoyed the process. I made peppermint sugar scrub, which was easy and worked out well. You can find the directions here: http://www.mommymusings.com/diy-peppermint-sugar-scrub/. This awesome blogger even had little printable labels! Hooray!

Next I concocted homemade granola, which was a HUGE hit. I found a recipe that called for ingredients you already have in the house, which made it very easy and affordable. The inspiration and directions are found here: http://ambertheblack.com/no-recipe-easy-homemade-granola/

Finally I made these super easy fabric bowls—> (See picture below, my word press site is not fancy enough to allow me to place a photo any old place!)

This was a delightfully easy and fun project. So easy, that even a less than adept seamstress like myself could make it. I’ll share a tutorial in a separate post.

The hardest part of the spending fast has been food and restaurants. I really love good food, and I LOVE supporting local eateries. I am trying to stick to a food budget, and had completely eliminated eating out as an option. A friend suggested that I allow myself to eat out IF it was within the budget I had already set aside for groceries. This seemed much more realistic, and so still sticking to my budget, we have eaten out (albeit at cheap places!!) twice in the month of December. Bahn’s Cuisine and Ninth Street Bakery here in Durham, NC have vegan friendly eats that cost around $5-6 dollars for a full meal. It is very hard to beat that!

A few more tips on sticking to a budget while grocery shopping.

1. Do NOT go to a “big box” store such as Target or Wal-Mart to get groceries unless you have to. You  WILL think you need other random things, like scented candles, a new ironing board, or other random plastic shit, that I PROMISE you DONT NEED. 🙂 Just go to a regular grocery store, they have everything you need, and if you aren’t afraid of generics, it will be just as cheap.

2. Keeping a grocery budget low means avoiding all pre-packaged food, including the healthy stuff like salad dressing, hummus and my beloved Lara bars. All of these things you can make at home very easily. Again, I plan to offer separate posts on the most financially friendly ways to make these items at home. Plus they are way tastier!

3. When you start cooking and creating more at home, there will be a “Start-up” cost. Buying tahini,miso, dijon and maple syrup to make my favorite salad dressing IS more expensive than grabbing a bottle. But those few ingredients will make salad dressing for the next several months. A very significant savings overall.

Finally, my intention going into 2014 is to have FUN with this spending fast. This doesn’t have to be torture, it is a choice to live more simply and see what emerges with a more mindful approach to spending. Cheers to a frugally fun New Year!

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Why I am doing a Spending Fast–> and How I plan to do it.

Perhaps it is just the time of year (Black Friday!, Christmas Shopping!!), but I have felt overwhelmed with the pressure to spend, all the while worried about having more financial freedom and security.I think many of us can learn a lot about ourselves when we examine our relationship to our finances, how we spend and save, and how we think about our money.

First of all, I want to say that I am incredibly blessed financially. My husband and I both work full-time, not super high paying jobs, but we do have all of our needs met and then some. We are slowly paying off on our house and car (those are the only big ticket items we have) —and we can meet our basic expenses month to month. We are so grateful and blessed. So why go on a spending fast?

  1. To reduce the amount of educational debt we have accrued getting our awesome graduate degrees.
  2. To become more aware of how I spend, and why. (Boredom? Keeping up with the Joneses? A false sense of security? Image?)
  3. To challenge myself to discover more ways to have fun with friends and family that do not involve spending money (i.e. simple pleasures!)
  4. To purposefully and actively take a stand against materialism, consumerism and waste.
  5. Finding freedom from the need to feel secure—based on the items that I own or buy.

So here is how the fast will look. The fast will start on December 1st and go through May 31st—and may continue longer. I didn’t want to set a goal that wasn’t feasible, and I feel that this will be.

What I will spend on:

  • Car payments
  • Loan payments
  • Insurance
  • Medical appointments
  • Gas
  • Food
  • Routine car maintenance

What I won’t spend $ on:

  • Gifts (sorry ya’ll, it is a handmade and homemade Christmas—except hubby who was lucky that I purchased his gift a week ago!)
  • Coffee/ Tea out (this will be one of the hardest. I frequent Cocoa Cinnamon, Bean Traders and Mad Hatter’s in Durham. This will require major willpower!)
  • New Clothes. So long modcloth.com
  • Etsy. I love to support handmade arts and crafts, these next 6 months I will be making my own!
  • New makeup and toiletries ( I have noticed that I have a strange obsession with buying moisturizer, lip glosses, shampoos, etc.—even when I already have them. I currently own 6 facial moisturizers. No one needs 6 facial moisturizers!!)
  • Manicure/ pedicure (I don’t do this often, but it won’t hurt me to take a 6 month break and use one of the many nail polishes I already own. See above).
  • Fancy haircut—as I need to grow my hair out anyway, if anyone reading this in the Durham area know how to cute hair and would like to barter haircuts for yoga or baby-sitting let me know.
  • Movies (we do have Netflix and the library—not to mention my latest favorite is “The Paradise”—and  I can watch that on PBS online for free.)
  • New music (another addiction…)
  • Amazon purchases (Because I need to OWN that book has been stated way too many times.)
  • Restaurants (AHHHHH!!!!! Like coffee shops above, this will be very difficult. Luckily I LOVE to cook, and know how to do so cheaply).
  • Groupons (They just tempt me to buy things I don’t need).
  • Whole Foods—Again, I am always tempted to buy more than what I need. Kroger and Trader Joe’s literally have everything I need.
  • Fancy Expensive Fitness Classes. I have free memberships at 2 gyms in town, and free yoga as well. There is no reason I need to buy more. Much as I love the classes at the local Cycle/ Yoga Studio, this requires me to take a break—I hope to go back to them someday.

So there you have it, this is modeled somewhat after the inspiration I discovered at this blog: http://andthenwesaved.com/about-the-spending-fast/

I encourage you to check out what she has written. I plan to blog further on how the fast goes, what I discover and how I find ways to save (which I think will be mostly about NOT spending). I am declaring this publicly not only as a way of holding myself accountable, but also to garner support from friends and family. Thank you for supporting this effort, and comment below if you have any tips, ideas or suggestions!

I am eager to see what I learn not only about myself, but my relationship with money along the way.