A year of doing less of this and more of that

I looked at my monthly credit card bill recently and thought, “Why was it so high last month?  Maybe I was hacked.” I reviewed all of the charges and, sadly, no hacker. Just me charging things for myself and my family.  For several months I had been thinking I was having unusually high credit card bills so I went back and reviewed six months of charges.  My credit card bills had crept up and the average was much higher than it had previously been. I had to admit that my new monthly amount was no longer an exception but it was the new normal.

This got me thinking about everything we spend money on as a family that I don’t even think about.  I don’t think we are shopaholics in the typical sense. My kids rarely go clothes shopping and when they do it’s usually at Target.  Other than Target clothes, my younger two kids wear hand-me-downs from friends or family and, luckily, my soon-to-be teenage son is still happy with his Target clothes too.  None of them are brand crazy (yet) so I’m going to keep riding the wave as long as possible where they think Target is the greatest store ever. My nine year old recently said if she won the lottery she’d buy Target.  More power to her as long as she remembers her parents and lets us have unlimited store credit there.  

We are definitely not mall rats.  The closest mall is at the outlets ~25 minutes away and we don’t get there very often.  It’s not like when I was growing up in Texas where we’d do our hair, put on makeup and dress up and go to the mall on most weekends.  It was part of my social life. Sort of like Fast Times at Ridgemont High without the Valley Girls, sex, drugs or Spicoli. Ok, maybe the only thing that was like Fast Times was hanging out at the mall with a lot of drama but you can visualize the Texas version of that scene (aka big hair).  

Luckily, my kids don’t really know what a mall is so we don’t have to worry about that drama.  Except I did stop by the Mall of America with my nine year old this summer when we were in Minnesota for a kid sporting event because I wanted to see it but I’m proud to say that I didn’t spend a single penny.   Besides the shopping, the amusement park, the mini golf, the escape room etc, there was an aquarium and I almost paid to go to it but then my daughter sagely pointed out that we could watch the stingrays from the level above so we looked at the stingrays for free and left.   I’m bizarrely proud of the fact that I didn’t spend any money at the largest mall in America. Sort of like giving the finger to my Texas teenage self and saying, “Ha- look at how mature I am now”.  

Although we don’t go to malls, we do order a lot on Amazon.  I don’t have the time or energy to go stores at this point of my life so I just buy almost everything online.  If we need a new office desk chair, a roll of tape, paper clips or a slime for the kids, I have Amazon deliver it straight to our door.  In reviewing my credit card statement, I was a little nervous that I was addicted to Amazon so I decided that I needed to reign it in.  

Thinking about my uptick in spending and my possible addition to Amazon, got me thinking about how I spend my money on non-essential items.  

I have decided to spend a year of less of this (spending and acquiring) and more of that (purging and organizing).  I decided to give myself a year for this because I want to do it right and create new habits. Here is the list of things that I am committing to over the next year:

Less:

  1. Online purchases/Amazon 
  2. Bringing kids junk into the house
  3. Buying clothes and toys

More:

  1. Purging and organizing the house 
  2. Being on top of my finances (i.e. looking at recurring charges to see if they are necessary)
  3. Using gift cards that we already have

I am going to do less on some fronts but I need to be more thoughtful about it.  

After realizing that I didn’t have a hacker but my credit card bill was all my doing, I decided to try No Amazon August.  I announced that I would not be ordering on Amazon during August unless it was essential. I was strict and it felt good. I ended up cutting my credit card in ½ that month.  Wow. I can’t do that every month because I didn’t purchase any big ticket items that we sometimes need to make but it felt good to reign in the spending.

My wife and I also talk a lot about how the kids bring a lot of junk into the house.  I am more of a culprit than she is on this and it drives her crazy. The kids are always bringing home things from school, birthday parties etc.  I also take them to the Dollar Tree periodically, which is the definition of junk, and let them go crazy with a few dollars. I’m going to work on recycling/getting rid of quickly what comes in from school, birthday parties etc. and to not actively buy anything that may be considered junk (i.e. No more Dollar Tree outings).   

My sister-in-law calls these pieces of kids junk that come into the house “one day toys”.  Her philosophy is that the kids get to play with them for a day (or maybe a week) and then they disappear.  I’m going to try to take on that mentality.  

As far as buying clothes, we don’t need any more.  I want to keep my clothes purchases to a minimum. I’ll buy new running shoes when they are worn out or too small but we don’t need the latest style.  I’ll only buy the kids clothes if their current clothes don’t fit and they don’t have any hand me downs coming their way.

A friend recently gave me five bags of hand me downs.  Taking in more stuff goes against my new rule but I thought, rightly so in hindsight, that a “new” batch of clothes around back to school would save me a shopping trip with my two daughters.  

Instead of bringing all five bags in like I would normally do, I went through them first and only picked out what I thought they would like.  I kept the rest in the car and took that and what they didn’t like from what I had picked out to our donation place the next day. I also forced myself to get rid of some of their existing clothes so it was an even exchange but spruced up their wardrobe a bit.  A win win. 

I think my kids will lose it if I put a 100% kabosh on spending for a year so I will let them buy things they want if, and only if, they pay for them out of their allowance at the time of purchase.  That applies to Amazon too. No more settling up later as we’ve been doing because it never evens out.  

On the more side, I’m going to purge more clothes and things we have around the house.  My kids’ drawers are packed and they all have extra clothes on top of their dressers. Do you think they wear all of the clothes in their dressers?  Absolutely not. So why do we have to have extra clothes stacked on top of their dressers? No idea but that’s a thing of the past. 

I have to admit that I have uniforms that I wear for work. Not real uniforms just the outfits of the week/month etc. that I like at that moment.  Luckily, I don’t see the same people at work and can get away with rotating 4-5 outfits over a month and no one notices. I’m going to have to look through my closet and be honest about whether or not it fits, if I like it or if I wear it.  Hello, Marie Kondo. I am going to start purging clothes it if it doesn’t bring us joy (or doesn’t fit). So in a year if I’m wearing the same thing you see me in now, don’t judge me. I’ve never been a trend setter so you probably won’t know that it’s the same outfit I had on last time that you saw me (spoiler– it will probably be black).

When we moved back from the East Coast to the West Coast a few years ago, we had just read Marie Kondo’s book The Art of Tidying Up and took action.  We were serious about the “Does it bring me joy?” line and we donated ~25 bags of clothes. It felt great and we never said,
“Where are those bell bottoms I used to love?” or “Where’s that shirt with the shoulder pads that I used to wear in the 80s?” (I’m kidding but you get the drift). 

I think one easy way to not bring stuff into the house (other than my Amazon hiatus) is to stop bringing my kids to stores.  Call me a sucker but they always talk me into buying stuff. Sometimes they pay for it out of their allowance but it never really evens out.  Next time I need to go to Target etc., I am going to find a time to go when they are not with me. That may be a little challenging and I might have to sneak there during a work day to get what we need but it will be worth it in the money that I save. 

A neglected source of extra money in our house are gift cards.  Both the adults and the kids get them from relatives for birthdays and holidays. We love getting them but they don’t always get used.  The kids often exchange a gift card to buy something of the same amount online. I’m fine with that but we often don’t use them and they just sit around.  I’m done with that. I am going to start buying things that I would already buy with gift cards. The best are the Visa gift cards as you can use them anywhere but we also have Amazon, movie cards, Jamba Juice, Starbucks etc.  Next time the kids want a treat, I’m taking them to Jamba Juice and using a gift card. Want to go to the movies? You betcha, let me grab my gift card.  

My family was out of town recently and I decided to do a test while they were gone and see if I could go the whole time without putting a penny on my Visa by using the gift cards that we already had.  

One night, I spontaneously met a friend for drinks and dinner because it was 103 degrees and her AC was out (what a nightmare) so we decided to go for margaritas and tacos, which is always a good idea in my book.  As we were sitting there drinking our margaritas, I said, “I’m going to try to go this whole week without spending any money”.  

There was a pregnant pause as we both looked at the margaritas in front of us and she said, “I guess I’m paying for that”.  I laughed hysterically and said I meant I wasn’t paying for anything on my Visa but I had a gift card to use for drinks and dinner.  She’s a pretty new friend and was probably pegging me as a mooch but I think I salvaged the friendship by the time we ordered another round of margaritas on my gift card. 

The next thing I am going to do is review my bank statements and credit cards for any recurring charges and see if it’s necessary.  Some of you may be judging me that I don’t do this every month but, let’s be honest, I know I should and I don’t but I am committing to doing it now.  I’m hoping to save some dough by doing that.  

My hope is that in a year I will have cleaner closets and drawers, less junk, lower credit card bills, more money in the bank and more appreciation for what we do have.  Wish me luck.

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