June 10, 2011

Learning Through Lightening The Load

In an ongoing effort to reduce the amount of stuff in our home, we recently unearthed several heavy boxes of old bills, receipts, and bank statements. I felt like a cashologist as we opened the time capsules representing a large chunk of our financial past.

Our goal was to pull a Conrad Black and shred the majority of the evidence, but we knew it would also be an opportunity for learning.

We review our bank statements monthly, but going through the boxes was a multi-year review. Reflected in the numbers on reams of paper was how our spending has changed over the past few years.

Sometimes it feels like we have cut as much as we can from our budget, but then we always seem to be able to cut more. In our statements we could see how we have made continued progress toward fulfilling our goal of not buying anything that we don't need.

We have drastically cut vehicle use, so our spending on transportation was down. It was interesting to see how much we used to spend on America's favourite recreational drug. Booze disappeared from the paper trail in 2009 when we quit drinking. We have saved many hundreds of dollars since then, and I sure don't miss the hangovers.

Over the years our clothing budget decreased to the point of being virtually non-existent. It is amazing how long clothes last when you care for them, and not for fashion. However, I still occasionally get new socks and underwear. Well, new to me, anyway. I am joking - Practical Santa brings new underwear every Christmas.

Alcohol and clothes are one thing, food is another. Our statements showed that we were successfully cutting spending on food, until recent food price hikes.

In response we quit coffee, and replaced it with green tea and chai tea. Both are considerably less expensive than coffee. This has helped, but one does need to eat a certain amount of whole, fresh food every day. Next to implementing a calorie-restricted diet, what is one to do?

Partially due to our ballooning food budget, this spring we increased the size of our square inch garden. We will be enjoying near-free micro-harvests of beans, lettuce, spinach, snow peas, potatoes, strawberries, chives, and oregano. Even if the financial benefit is fairly small, the garden therapy is priceless.

Our shredding party resulted in a major reduction in piles of unnecessary, cluttery paper. The cashologists in us were encouraged by the progress we saw written in the statements sent for recycling. The time capsule revealed that we have been buying less and less over the years. That is what we expected, but it was nice to have it confirmed.

The best thing is that we have not felt any decrease in quality of life associated with the decrease in spending. The amount of money we have been spending, or not spending, has not decreased our level of happiness. If anything, it has increased it.

What do your financial time capsules say about spending habits and happiness? Be a cashologist and unearth the story with a 'Lighten and Learn'.

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