Forgetting the Pie We Paid For
& Other “Money Fast” Anecdotes
Money… Ah, it’s more intertwined in my day-to-day life than I imagined. And awfully hard to disentangle from.
That realization was driven home during my 5-day “money fast” Oct. 1-5 and a subsequent “money scrutiny” phase Oct. 6-15—both intended to foster sustainability through frugality, and to explore non-monetary transactions within my community.
For the two weeks of the Northwest Earth Institute’s annual EcoChallenge, I originally planned to split the 14 days down the middle and undertake a spending fast for the first seven. But my husband’s work schedule shifted and his string of vacation days started on Thursday instead of on the weekend, so I just went with the flow and started re-spending then.
The first five days (the intended money fast) were also complicated by external forces. Read on…
This was the most difficult area to cease spending in. Although I was prepared to follow Jeff Yeager’s “Ultimate Cheapskate” advice and eat for five days from our garden, freezer and pantry, the rest of my family was not adequately prepared to follow me.
This was partly my fault; I confess to downplaying this EcoChallenge to my husband, who thinks I’m slightly crazy anyway for all the new sustainability initiatives and volunteer commitments I have recently layered on our busy family life. I didn’t want to stress out Jeff about my money fast, which ideally would be our money fast, but in reality was neither. I couldn’t make it through five days without opening my wallet and neither could he.
My spending lapse came on Oct. 3, from a perceived urgent need for nighttime pull-up diapers for my daytime potty-trained son. In retrospect, I could’ve probably polled my mama friends and scored a few free diapers to make it through the fast, but time was tight, bedtime was approaching, and my excuse was that I wasn’t being dogmatic about this!
Background: We had finally made time over the weekend to disassemble Soren’s crib and swap it out with his “big boy bed,” and then he wanted to forego tabbed diapers to be able to use his potty in the middle of the night. Well, Night #1 in just underwear resulted in a wet bed and middle-of-the-night bedding change. I decided that sleep for the rest of the week trumped the money fast, so…generic-brand pull-ups from Safeway it was!
Spending on the food front was complicated (and breached) by the Oct. 1-3 visit of my in-laws. They enjoy eating out in Port Townsend, and I didn’t have the fortitude to insist on exclusively home-cooked meals. (Especially since guess who would be cooking them?) So does it count if your in-laws pick up the check for Sunday brunch during your spending fast? What about if they take pity on you and purchase a half-gallon of milk to replace the one that ran out two days before the spending fast is over?
It felt good to be spending money again after Oct. 5, I have to say. I love shopping at our farmers market and at local businesses where I know the shopkeepers and they know me. I feel like “shopping local” is an act of love for this place and its people, and it fills me with gratitude that I am able to support my neighbors’ enterprises and get high-quality, easily accessible products in return.
I really look forward to an afternoon downtown with Soren in the stroller, popping into the different shops where I regularly purchase tea, post-it notes and socks. I enjoyed such a shopping trip on Oct. 10, spending about $20 at three places and stopping to chat at three more. Soren is at the age where he wants many of the things he sees in stores, and my pat response is, “Do you have enough money in your piggy bank for it?” He pressed hard enough for a croaking frog toy at Olympic Art & Office that I bankrolled the $3.26 purchase and he paid me back from his piggy bank when we got home. But before we did, it just seemed right to treat ourselves at the end to a nutella-banana crepe and coffee, totaling $7, at the Water Street Creperie. Yum!
Similarly, our regular visits to Aldrich’s Grocery near our home in uptown are wrapped in gratitude, good feelings and familiarity. We focus on the market’s convenience and great selection over its prices (which are actually very competitive) and give them as much of our business as we can. Soren and I were treated to lunch there on Oct. 15 by a new friend from Local 20/20, which left more cash in my wallet to spend at the Saturday Farmers Market.
I brought home meat from cattle raised in Quilcene and all the vegetables needed to make a beef stew, and that evening shared a karmic meal with a traveling bicyclist from Ohio who was only two days from his Pacific Coast destination. Ryan had found my parents through the (free) touring cyclist hospitality site WarmShowers.com and stayed with them in Anacortes the night before.
That morning, my mother had called wondering if we would host this interesting young man on his continuing journey. I had a zillion things to do that day and wasn’t sure if Jeff would appreciate having a stranger for dinner at the end of his long work day at the Kitsap Solar Tour, but I repeated my mantra of “if you have a generous impulse, give into it,” and agreed. It was absolutely the right thing to do. Conversation with the indeed-fascinating Ryan kept us going till 10 p.m. and we felt blessed by our contact with his adventure and the opportunity to support it. His blog reports he made it to the coast midweek!
More generosity…in the form of the second bagel put into the paper bag at Metro Bagels even after I realized I only had the money for one. That made my day!
For his first day off on Oct. 6, Jeff had been looking forward to a family day in Seattle. It’s nigh impossible to travel from Port Townsend to Seattle without spending cash, mostly because there’s a large body of water to cross on a state-run ferry.
We economized by packing homemade zucchini bread and fruit leather for snacks, and spent our lunch budget ($24) before we left Jefferson County on delicious sandwiches, pastries and local kiwi fruit at the Chimacum Corner Farm Store and the Farm’s Reach Cafe next door. So much tastier (and healthier) than relying on the ferry cafeteria or the cheap eats in downtown Seattle.
It cost $11 to park our car in the lot at the ferry terminal, $15 for two round-trip walk-on ferry tickets (Soren is free). The 90-mile round-trip drive in our Toyota Matrix that gets (a disappointing) 30-35 miles/gallon used about $12 in gas.
We took a stroller and once on the city side, walked for 30 minutes to reach Seattle Center and our destination, the Pacific Science Center. It was Soren’s first visit, and at age 3, he was most excited to see the dinosaur exhibit. He was absolutely engaged the whole afternoon. We also bought tickets to see the IMAX film on Canada’s Rocky Mountain railway and steam train. Admission totaled $45 and included our AAA discount.
At 5 o’clock, we paid $4 to ride the monorail’s too-short line back into downtown, spent $26 on noodles at a Vietnamese restaurant, then walked the rest of the way to the ferry dock. Adding in the $5 donation for the totem pole carvers on the waterfront who kindly answered all our questions, the Seattle day cost a grand total of $142.
Whew! What a way to break a spending fast.
I should say that we are saving hundreds of dollars this month by stay-cationing over two long weekends rather than embarking on a road trip to Colorado as initially planned. But by keeping track of every penny for our Seattle day, we were surprised at how many elements added up to more than we anticipated. Jeff had claimed a day in Seattle would not cost much more than a day of camping on the Olympic Peninsula (closer to home), but he was wrong.
Our next three days were spent recreating at Salt Creek near Port Angeles. A camping site with power for our VW van cost $25/night for two nights, a provisions stop that included firewood and s’more fixings ran $50, and round-trip gas for our 20 mpg vehicle cost approximately $35. Do we count the $17 tarp Jeff bought in case of rain, but we didn’t use? If we don’t, then our three days could have cost a minimal $45 each.
But we did add in a day trip to Sol Duc Hot Springs, admission to which cost $25 for two adults (again, Soren was free) and required a National Parks pass, which we hadn’t purchased in the last 12 months. Assuming we will visit Olympic National Park again this winter, it made sense to purchase the annual pass for $30.
We spent another $25 on food-booth lunch fare at the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival on our return trip eastbound, and that same day collected $11 in baked goods we had purchased and abandoned when westbound two days earlier.
Here’s the forgotten pie anecdote, and it’s a good one. On our way to Salt Creek, handpainted signs advertising “probiotic bread” at a rural roadside stand caught our attention. We did a U-turn and found a banjo-playing health-nut baker awaiting customers. Although we had enough food in the van for the weekend, we got excited about adding his cinnamon rolls and berry pie to our camping menu. We carefully selected some bread, pie and cookies, chatted up the shopkeeper and after dutifully paying him $11, we drove off without our goodies! Although I pulled out my notebook in the van to record the monetary transaction right away, my husband and I didn’t realize the other hadn’t grabbed the goods until we were miles away. Thankfully, the “bread wagon” was in the same spot two days later on our return trip, and the baker was very glad to see us again and to make amends. And his pie was delicious. A happy ending!
In summary, three days of camping, eating and soaking ran us $226, which is still only $75/day by comparison to our $142 Seattle day. I rest my case.
The EcoChallenge fell during KUOW’s fall pledge drive, and we were due to make our annual contribution to public radio. And we did, at the same level as last year. When Jeff asked me about upping our donation, I argued instead for making the additional commitment of becoming first-time members of Port Townsend’s brand new public radio station, KPTZ. $60 to KUOW, $60 to KPTZ.
The collective power of many, many individual donors is inspiring to me. I’m proud to be a part of raising more than $1 million for KUOW and $24,000 for KPTZ. Our family has a short list of about 10 nonprofits we donate to every year, and one of the benefits of being strategic with our philanthropy is that it allows us to honestly say, “We plan our giving and do not respond to telephone or direct mail or door-to-door solicitations.”
During the EcoChallenge I also responded to the creative fundraiser of a nonprofit dear to my heart: Sound Experience. (I crewed aboard their schooner, Adventuress, in 1999 and served on the board from 2000-2003.) Their “29 dollars, 29 days” campaign continues through Oct. 22 and as of Oct. 19 it looks like they’ve raised $49,065 toward their $52,000 goal. I rounded up and donated $50. If you can spare a minimum of $29 to get kids out on the water for Sound Experience’s awesome environmental education programs, please join me!
THE BIG DECISIONS
Housing. Insurance. Childcare.
We certainly didn’t delay our mortgage payment during the spending fast, and that’s our biggest monthly expenditure. Do the math, and we pay the bank $40/night to stay in our own house. Of course, we don’t really own it yet—that’s the point. At least we refinanced last fall from a 30-year to a 15-year fixed mortgage. Paying it off seems much more real.
These past few months I’ve been scrutinizing our insurance coverage, looking for savings but in actuality only finding gaps we’re not comfortable leaving. We even added life insurance policies (but not disability insurance—just too expensive). Add health insurance premiums to this mix, and we pay hundreds of dollars each month to insure ourselves in case of crisis or catastrophe. It’s one of the most puzzling facets of modern life. It seems we can no longer take care of each other.
And we have a child who will not be eligible to start publicly funded Kindergarten for 2-3 years, so we are paying for a private preschool. Unexpectedly, we had to switch preschools for my son during the EcoChallenge. What with the enrollment fee, the annual art supply fee, and a pro-rated month’s tuition for just two mornings a week, I had to write a $500 check to the new preschool provider. This initial investment must be off limits to many families. I worry about the children who do not have access to early childhood education—they will be my son’s classmates in public schools. If a society doesn’t invest in prevention, we have to pay more to remedy its problems.
As a mom and wife, it’s not just me I’m depriving of money’s usefulness during a spending fast, it’s my whole family. This would have been a very different (and easier?) exercise if I was single. However, this EcoChallenge has really focused my thinking about spending, in a new and good way.
That said, I’m chagrined I can’t tell you how much money left my hands during these two weeks, much less how much our family unit spent. I would lose another late-night hour that should be devoted to sleep to coming up with even a round figure. That tallying is much harder than I thought.
I want to try a money fast again, but I’ll definitely look for a clear week on the calendar without the distractions of travel or visitors.
And when I return to spending, I want to try the cash envelope system. This is working well for an acquaintance, who says it is helping her family slash impulsive spending.
How do you track and budget your family finances? Any effective tips to share? Leave a reply below.