Betting on Love, Leveling Up and Leaving Atlanta (Part III)

We didn’t do so well this month when it came to saving. Not that we’ve been doing great up to this point by any means, but this month was pretty terrible. Adam and I were still able to save our goal amount: We currently have $2,200 in our savings account, and are still on track to putting away $10,000 by next May. That’s reassuring, but we could have done a lot better.

This month was one of those mentally draining, down-in-the-dumps months. It was full of impulse purchases and lack of any motivation whatsoever to try to cut back or be frugal.

For a few days in the middle of October, I felt completely overwhelmed with even the smallest tasks and wallowed around in depression, holing up under the bedcovers and feeling devastated about anything and everything. For me, depression creeps up slowly and uncontrollably, like a chest-constricting, overwhelming feeling of being trapped combined with the head-swirling vertigo of facing too many choices at once. Endless series of questions encroach one after the other, hypothetical answers branching off madly, zigzagging through my brain and jamming all the normal frequencies. It is bad. It makes Adam feel crappy and alienated because he can’t do anything to help me, and I just wind up lashing out at him when he does try to help. After a few days I get over it, and life rights itself. I feel mentally weak for being unable to check my own emotions and insecurities sometimes, but I figure it’s fairly normal. Or is it? Most people go through these periods of depression, right?

I guess everyone just has to try to avert their gaze from the darkest, most terrifying, infinite, yawning chasms of Reality, find some kind of overarching meaning or at least a distraction, or else we’d all be laid out flat on our backs, shivering with terror and desperation. As for myself, sometimes I think it’s good to come face-to-face with the hard, cold facts of life and my own microscopic, antlike existence, instead of cocooning myself in some kind of warm and fuzzy delusion where I am center of the universe.

I’m sure it’s much better to concentrate on the here and now, and enjoy the moment-to-moment little things—the creamy, steaming mug of hot chocolate and some toasted pecan-raisin bread slathered with a warm dollop of butter and honey. Or I can concentrate on bigger things, like on caring for the people closest and most important to me, on making my boyfriend feel special and loved, on my dog’s sweet and trusting dependence on me, on the rhythm of my breath and the pumping of my blood while I run on a wooded trail at the park.

Or I could focus on one small and attainable goal at a time, instead of making my habitual vast mental leap to my biggest long-term goals, which seem huge and insurmountable right now. For one thing, I could finally focus on creating a weekly food plan and budget for Adam and me. This is so necessary for us, and I have been meaning to do it, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. We have fallen in a sad trap of buying enough food for the coming day or two but no further, ultimately going grocery shopping almost every single day. This is a ridiculous and tiring habit and it’s also totally unnecessary. When we started, our original food budget goal was $600 per month. Last month, we spent a whopping $1,000 at the grocery store. This month, we spent about $900, ever so slightly better, but still coming in at $300 over our target. (This includes non-food items, like shampoo, soap, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, dog food, etc.) Last month, we put about $400 on our credit card, and this month we charged about $550, which consisted of work boots for Adam, some new office apparel for me, new makeup, a haircut, a few cheap dinners out, and some first-aid stuff for Adam because he sliced his thumb up and had to get stitches, then immediately thereafter injured his knee while running in the Atlanta Marathon. No extravagantly luxurious charges, but clearly very little money-saving progress was made.

I’m taking more action this month. I will focus on forward progress, one step at a time, and will also concentrate on delving deeper into the good stuff in my life, getting out of the ruts I tend to dig for myself. So here are my goals for November:

Goal 1: Create at least three weekly money-optimizing menus that although cheap, are still mouth-wateringly, stomach-grumbling-ly delicious, stick to them, and share them with you next month.

Goal 2: Get more exercise. It feels good.

Goal 3: Do something purposeful every day. Apply for a job I think I’d like better. Finish projects I started but have let languish. Shell out a little extra for a class in a subject I really like. Make something that I care about. Knock out things on my to-do list and don’t let the tasks pile up.

Goal 4: Be stronger, more thoughtful, less selfish, more loving! Find new twists on my day-to-day life, stretch my abilities and challenge myself. Find that pit-of-the-stomach adrenaline rush that I constantly crave through being more productive and trying new things.

Goal 5: Save more money. (Obviously)

What does everyone else do get their motivation flowing? What makes you want to live, and do, and engage? What about your life do you find exciting and stimulating? How do you pay for it, or is it free? Is excitement a requirement for you to feel good or do you prefer a quieter, slower pace of life? Do you have a plan for the future or do you play it by ear? I would like to hear about it.

 

Previously: Parts I, and II

Amanda Tomas will do better next time.

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43 Comments / Post A Comment

Trilby (#191)

Wait, what?! $1000 at the grocery store? How many people is that for? I hope not two but it sounds like two. For me, motivation flows naturally from my goals, and one of my goals is always to live within my means because the greatest luxury, I’ve realized, is being able to afford my bills. In other words, I can easily pay my bills every month without pain, scrambling, shuffling expenses, etc. It’s a huge relief. It comes from two directions, making more and spending less. Here’s a suggestion– don’t shop. Stop shopping and you won’t be tempted to buy. When I can afford it, I open the tempting offers in my in-box. But when I can’t, I just delete them! Don’t window shop, either physically or virtually. Or, another idea– I call it shopping in my closet. Look through what I already own, see if something I forgot about just needs to be cleaned or ironed and can go back into rotation.

About the grocery shopping/huge amounts spent– just DON’T! That is freaking ridiculous. Put your grocery money for the month in a cookie jar, in cash, and only spend that. A reasonable abount for 2 people, including toiletries and cleaning supplies, should be about $500.

runningpig (#1,244)

@Trilby There’s a dog too – and their grocery consumption is definitely not limited to dog food. The number of whole meals a dog can ruin (and necessitate buying new groceries for) by being cunning, devious, lovable bastards is astounding. Plus she admits their grocery spending is too much, you don’t have to belabor the point.

Trilby (#191)

@runningpig A dog can ruin whole meals? That is just carelessness on the part of the dog owner. If you are trying to save money, don’t be careless, especially not time and time again (learn from mistakes). But you are just guessing there.

Look, I am trying to be helpful. Here are more grocery shopping tips: Don’t shop when hungry. Buy store brands and sale items whenever possible. For cleaning supplies, all you really need is vinegar and baking powder, plus a small bottle of bleach, a can of ajax, and a few sponges. Eat less meat, more beans and whole grains. Get your market’s loyalty card so you get the good deals. Use a shopping list and stick to it.

This is not rocket science! These tips are well-know and they actually work. There is no reason for two people AND A DOG to spend $1000 a month on gropceries IF they are trying to save money and they are not Donald Trump.

@Trilby If you read the past two installments, you’ll see that the author’s addressed their grocery budget and eating habits before. For my household of two people and two dogs, yes, $1000/month would be too much.

But here’s the great thing about money: We all get to set our own priorities, and as long as we’re living within our means and achieving saving goals (and not using the money to buy baby seals to club), it’s all good. No reason to crucify someone in the comments for not living your preferred lifestyle.

So congrats, Amanda, for being on track with your savings, and having a plan to cut back more next month.

Trilby (#191)

@TheclaAndTheSeals OK, sure, she explains if if you consider “we spent on average $25.76 per day on groceries” an explanation. I don’t! It adds up to too much spending on grovceries for people who are trying to save money. I have a household of 3 adults, and we eat very well on far less.

Look I accept that the people on this website are generally 20-30 years younger than me and have a different perspective (i.e. much less life/budgeting experience). But how about a little critical thinking?

wearitcounts (#772)

@Trilby congratulations, how wonderful.

TheclaAndTheSeals is not debating your point. the counterpoint is, amanda KNOWS, she has a PLAN to do better, and she will report back next month after executing said plan.

seems like critical thinking to me. how about a little empathy?

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Trilby et al
Believe me, I fully realize we are hemorraghing money that could be used for other, more useful pursuits, and I am working to turn that around. Also thanks for everyone’s input – I really appreciate it!

I don’t apologize for the amount I spend on food and household goods – I can technically afford it. The only debt we have is a moderate amount of student debt. Sometimes the best thing in the world is an autumn grillout with friends – grass-fed, top-quality skirt steak seared and charred over a roaring flame, seasoned; fresh corn grilled and eaten with some colombian salty cheese; a sauteed kale salad; and some craft beer or a $30 bottle of wine. I like having those kinds of mouth-watering, convivial experiences. They make my life better.
However! We have other goals, so I need to work toward them.

City_Dater (#565)

@Amanda T

Exactly! It’s only “wasting money” if you can’t afford the expense. Habits can’t be changed overnight; your goal is admirable, and you’ll get there.

runningpig (#1,244)

@Trilby How patronizing. Because someone is 20-30 years younger than you they must not be as good at budgeting? Do you read some of the stories of how people have put themselves through college? She could choose beans over steak, and maybe she will next month (I too am looking forward to reading about menu planning, I love it), but there is nothing wrong with choosing to spend money you have on food because its something enjoyable. I personally chose to get a part time job for “steak money” so that I don’t have to eat beans.

ElBlynx (#499)

I think it has been mentioned before, but this is a great website for making cheap, delicious food that you can freeze for later: Budget bytes

Also, I’m a big fan of one pot meals where you just through a few things in and let it cook for 30-45 minutes. Potato lentil curry, ratatouille, minestrone soup, etc… are all surprisingly easy, filling, and cheap. Try making one new thing a week, and pretty soon it won’t be so daunting and you can more easily put together a weekly grocery list of your favorite core ingredients.

zamboni (#2,096)

@ElBlynx Yes Budget Bytes! And also yes to any kind of substantial soup/stew or chilis. Prime soup season is upon us, seize the day!

Amanda T (#1,842)

@ElBlynx Yum, slow-cooked soups and stews & delicious leftovers for work lunches! I am really excited to get started on planning out some well-thought-out weekly menus, and will happily be trawling through that site for ideas.

wearitcounts (#772)

oh amanda let me commiserate with you right now. i’m feeling pretty Terrible About Life myself. it’s one thing that happens…and then another…and then another… and then suddenly you’re in a pit and you don’t know how to claw your way out of it but everything feels terrible. i can RELATE.

i think sometimes it’s hard to forgive yourself and to be kind to yourself. but these are the most important ways to coax yourself out of the stagnant muck that is depression. to let yourself have feelings and not beat yourself up for having them. i don’t know if i’m any kind of expert on Feeling Good, but these are the things i’ve been thinking about. transitions of any kind, including mood, are exhausting and difficult. just be loving with yourself and hopefully the rest will follow.

zamboni (#2,096)

The haranguing about the grocery spending was so much fun in the last installment, I’m just thrilled it’s happening again. Definitely increasing everyone’s zest for life.

olivia (#1,618)

@zamboni ha seriously. I really appreciate people opening up about their finances, and seeing as how the author already said they spent too much at the grocery store, I don’t get the haranguing! SHE KNOWS.

@zamboni I know, right, despite her addressing the problem and even improving this month, let’s make sure she’s aware of how outrageous her grocery bill is!

Oy vey.

wearitcounts (#772)

@zamboni well you know, if we’re not being overly critical of completely self-aware people willing to share their stories on the internet, what else would we do with our day? we’re already so perfect ourselves.

zamboni (#2,096)

@wearitcounts in fairness, I chose to react to someone being overly critical on the internet by being snarky and feeling morally superior on the internet, so maybe I should also work on my time management.

wearitcounts (#772)

@zamboni haha, true enough. and ditto.

iffie (#1,911)

@zamboni TRIGGER WARNING: her grocery bill is bigger than yours!

City_Dater (#565)

@zamboni

I especially enjoy this judgey piling on someone who admits to feeling overwhelmed and depressed this month! “You’re spending too much on comfort food, Amanda! Grrr”

People, really. Sigh.

ladybug (#2,583)

About the exercise – so true! After I finally dropped my gym membership (after paying for probably a year and not going!), I found these great free workouts online (blogilates at http://www.blogilates.com/pilates-bootcamp-for-livestrong). They’re pretty quick, and great ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of 15 minutes helping you to actually see results. Best of luck in your saving/moving/etc.

cliuless (#36)

@ladybug blogilates is great! you should check out her youtube channel and website–tons more videos and workouts. and she makes workout plans you can follow each month using the videos she produces. (that said, i should really get back into it myself.)

edit: whoops, you’ve been on her website, duh! i saw “livestrong” and thought you only knew her from that channel. sorry!

zamboni (#2,096)

@ladybug I think this is pretty relevant to my needs. Thanks for sharing!

Amanda T (#1,842)

@ladybug Thanks for the link! I am thinking about signing up for a decent/intense yoga class but that would mean spending more money. I should also go back to jogging more often…

jacqueline (#653)

Saving can be so thrilling when you’re doing it right, and can make you feel like crap when you’re not. You’re making the effort to be smart, so give yourself some props for that already!

Also, maybe you’re already doing this, but set up an automatic transfer of your target amount to your savings account every month so you don’t give yourself the ability to spend that money.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

I look forward to these monthly check ins. Glad you are still making progress, even if not as much as you wanted, and I hope this month goes well!

Amanda T (#1,842)

@swirrlygrrl Thank you!

Amanda: Nice job adjusting your grocery spending this month, especially during a rough month when the last thing you want to think about it whether or not the (insert comfort food here) you’re craving will make or break your budget.

I really like doing things that make my mind work, partially because my job, day to day, is not very stimulating. So I read, I sew, I netflix (okay well really gossip girl just keeps my mind working because I can never keep the storylines straight), all of which cost money. I don’t require a lot of excitement, so I feel better making “investment costs” once a month or so (a $$ trip to the fabric store, my netflix fee, my magazine subscriptions) rather than spending a ton of money every weekend to go out and DO things (note: I am not a hermit, just an introvert. I do get out!).

I also find that, the more things I do that require me to think, and to seriously invest energy in, the less often I have crawl into bed and never come out days. The more I have to think about why the heck a pattern won’t work, or something I’m reading and then want to discuss with my friends, or what have you, the less space there is for unwanted thoughts to creep in. I’ve been really busy this fall, which has been stressful at times, but overall makes me a happier person.

It’s taken me awhile to figure out what kind of lifestyle works for my mental health – and how to afford it – but I’m a much better person for it.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@polka dots vs stripes I guess I’m smack in the middle of that early-20s “figuring it all out” stage that everyone has to schlep through. I just feel this burning need to do something that MEANS something, instead of I guess blandly processing my way through life. Writing these updates is a way for me to think through all of these things but I also want to do MORE and FASTER and BETTER and IMPORTANT and etc etc. The only problem is I don’t know what direction to point myself in. I know it’ll resolve itself eventually though. Thanks for your input!

themegnapkin (#444)

@Amanda T “that early-20s ‘figuring it all out’ stage” is not something I ever grew out of, and I’m in my early 30s now. You don’t need to figure it all out (I hear tell that nobody does, ever?), you just need to figure one or two things out at a time, and work towards them. Like, don’t look for the perfect job (too much pressure), look for a job that’s a little better than your last job.

minijen (#656)

I also wanted to say congrats for continuing to work towards your goals, I think you are doing admirably. Depression can knock us off track so badly – but you’re getting back in the groove. The meal plan plans are definitely a good move. I’ve found that Evernote is very useful for capturing recipes and meal ideas that I run across while online. Then, each week, put together a list of recipes for your meal plan. There’s a whole system for it, but it’s a bit much for a comment thread:)

Anywho…great job. Progress is progress, and you are getting there.

Mae (#1,769)

I’m looking forward to the meal plan post!

I hear you about the wanting to get in bed and stay there feelings, especially now that it’s getting dark and cold. It can be so hard to stay engaged and productive when you feel that way. What has helped me is paying attention to how I feel during and after all sorts of activities. For example: I inevitably feel shitty and lethargic after mindless internet surfing, but I feel much better after I’ve read part of a novel. So I try to keep doing things that make me feel happy and empowered, even if they’re small, because then I have energy to do more good things. Also, setting very attainable goals for myself is always good.

Blondsak (#2,299)

For me, motivation usually directly correlates with not embarrassing myself. I have always felt intense pressure to look good at everything I try, and this has resulted in a terrible complex about looking like a failure. I’ve worked on it over the years, but it is nowhere near gone.

Lately, I have found that either I can get EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN done in a day, or absolutely nothing. And I very rarely have two EVERYTHING days in a row. I attribute this partly to my certainty that my depression has returned, but also to the fact that I do not take the time to treat myself in ways that make me feel loved. Some personal examples: Exercise=feel loved. Overeating=feel not loved. Drinking too much=feel not loved. Getting up before 10am on a Saturday=feel loved. Volunteering=feel loved. Lying to friends so I don’t have to leave my apartment=not loved.

In short, this is one big cycle for me, really: Intense Shame => Huge Productivity => Massive Crash (Repeat).

Wow, this was brutally honest. Anybody else share these issues?

grog (#2,222)

I like these posts, Amanda. Thanks for sharing.

Regarding your goals – they’re admirable, but as one of my old managers used to say, they must be SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE (emphasis is his, not mine). Goal #1 is good. But #2? How much more exercise. Maybe something such as Exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes each. #3 is good. You should keep a list of the purposeful things you did each day so you can look back at month end and say, Wow, I did a lot! #4 – need specifics – e.g. Next time I’m feeling overwhelmed lying in bed, I will throw the covers off, put my feet on the floor and write down the last thing that made me smile (I know, easier said than done). #5 – how much more will you save?

Good luck!

Amanda T (#1,842)

@grog Solid advice. I feel like every time I make a quantifiable goal I always screw it up (I do this frequently) (see: $600 inital grocery budget, largely ignored) but I need to pull myself together and follow through.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@grog I have to throw my voice in, agreeing with this! I, too, am affected by these bouts of “depression,” so I know how it can be. Five very large, difficult, unmeasurable goals would send me right back into despair that I can never accomplish any of it. One or two small and specific goals would be much more helpful. I would say, “spend $800 on groceries this month” and “exercise twice a week” would be enough that I would feel motivated without too much pressure. Take care of yourself, Amanda, it is so so easy to get dragged back down.

Emma Peel (#317)

Two pieces of unsolicited advice (which, sorry, but hey):
–Charging stuff on your credit card while saving doesn’t make financial sense. You’re going to be paying much more in interest on that than you will be earning on your savings. I know it sucks psychologically to miss a goal, but I think it’s better to save $1,500 vs saving $2,000 and charging $500. (I feel the opposite about saving vs. paying off debt, as long as the debt maintenance is manageable, but I don’t think you should be adding to your debt while saving — it’s counterproductive.)

–Unless you’re looking for a new job in a field where being transitory is normal, looking when you want to leave in less than a year is maybe not the best idea? You could run into issues with continuity of insurance, etc., and it’s a little crappy to your future employers to accept long-term employment when you know it will probably be short-term. I don’t know your job or your employer (though I guess they do now, if you’re writing under your own name), nor do I know how miserable you are; but I, personally, would stay put if I wanted to move less than a year later.
That said, congratulations on your progress, and I love that you’re willing to share this journey with us.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Emma Peel Hi Emma, thanks for you advice! I guess I should have clarified, I route a lot of charges through AMEX instead of using my debit card, then pay it all of in a lump sum at the end of every month. I do not carry a balance. I’m doing it to build credit/get loyalty points. Now that I read back what I wrote, it does sound like I’m ringing up hundreds of dollars of debt every month! Not so – sorry for the confusion!

You’re right about the job thing. I was thinking of applying to jobs in the cities where I want to move, but am thinking that’s a bad idea because I will waste a lot of money on travel costs for interviews (assuming I even get any). If I *did* line up a job ahead of time, I could probably just break my lease and move ahead of time as well, but that is a very iffy thing to consider.
Thanks for your unsolicited (but good!) advice – I appreciate it.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Amanda T (oh my god sorry for all the grammatical errors)

Emma Peel (#317)

@Amanda T Thanks for your very polite reply to random advice from a stranger! And yes, looking in cities you actually want to live could be a smart move — even if you don’t apply, you’ll have a better idea of what the job markets look like there, where the openings are, what the salaries are, etc.

Best of luck to you, and sorry about all the people shaming you again for your grocery bills. :-/

Keck (#2,466)

I don’t think your grocery bill is too outrageous. As long as you’re not spending it on twinkies, I think it’s totally worth the money to purchase quality food. I’ve never been able to compromise when it comes to what I eat, but I don’t feel guilty about my expensive, free-range farmer’s market vegetables because they are good for so many reasons.

Hi Amanda, I just really enjoyed reading your 3 posts and could totally relate to your life circumstances. Not too long back me and my wife were in same boat as you and Adam. I was making close to six figure but we had no idea where our money was going. Unlike you guys, we were too lazy to keep an account of our expenses and do any type of budgeting least we find out that we are spending 800 dollars eating out!

We have always wanted to buy a house but we had no idea how in the world we will save 100K as downpayment needed to buy a 500K house. So we never really tried towards saving for it (A goal too far our to achieve). All that changed when we found out about loans programs that would allow us to put only 15 grand down. We got our spirits back and with motivation and energy started budgeting and cutting down our expenses. In three months we were proud home owners.

The point I am trying to make is not that you guys also decide to buy a house, but work on a goal which is practicle (can be achieve with your current income without stressing you too much), can be achieved in foreseeable future (what you want today may not want 5 years down the line so why to spend energy towards it), adds value to your life (a vacation in Europe sure sounds fun but spending all your saving on it won’t leave you in any better condition then you are right now) and most importantly is based on mutual consent (what good is a goal if it creates problems in your relationship.)

I wish you all the best in your mission to make positive changes to you life.

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