Since this is my first post on the Yachtless, I thought I’d use it to explain how my money turnaround originally came about. The Myth of the Yacht explains a little about the way that I thought about money during and immediately after college — specifically, I didn’t really think about it much. My perspective evolved a little over the years, mostly in regards to my student debt, but the most important catalyst for change appeared in December 2014.
It was a tiny thing, really. A friend of mine sent me a link to some posts by a food blogger who was doing the SNAP Challenge. I had never heard of the SNAP Challenge before, but it’s basically a challenge to try to limit your food spending for one month to the amount that you would get if you received SNAP benefits, which is somewhere in the ballpark of $140. Anyway, the blogger was writing about her experiences with the challenge, in particular how difficult and stressful it was and how much planning went into making sure she had enough to eat each day.
I thought it sounded like a cool idea, but I was also a little confused, since $140 per month sounded like an awful lot of money to be spending on food. I had a vague sense that I was spending more money on food than I needed to, but I was fairly certain it couldn’t be much more than $140 per month. Nevertheless, I decided it would be interesting to see how much I was spending on food, as well as on other things.
So I made a budget spreadsheet and coded it for everything I could think of, including several different food categories: Groceries, Other Food & Drink (i.e. takeout, food from convenience stores, etc.), To-Go Coffee/Tea, and Shared Meals (any food that I ate with other people, so I could see how social eating compared with eating alone). Starting on January 1st, I made a resolution to keep all my receipts, and I set myself a daily 8pm google calendar reminder to enter every single one of my expenses for the entire day—every stick of gum, every cup of coffee, every laundry quarter—down to the exact cent. (I work in a research lab, and nearly all of our projects rely heavily on the careful collecting and coding of data, and so it seemed important to me to stick to these rules. Plus, you know, it was January 1st, so that made it easier to be really conscientious about this.)
Guess what? I spent a total of $462.68 on food in January:
I had literally had no idea. That’s not an excuse, but it does speak to the importance of awareness, as well as the fact that how we think we behave is not always the same as how we actually behave. I should also mention I’m sure I probably spent a little less than I would have in January if I hadn’t been keeping track. It’s hard to monitor a behavior without changing it a little.
(Oh, in case you were wondering, I do not typically spend $183 a month on yoga. That month I pre-paid for a chunk of classes that I used over the course of the next several months.)
So now it’s August. I’m still using this budget spreadsheet, and I still write all my expenses in it religiously each evening. This exercise has been, and continues to be, the single most important element of my financial education. It has motivated me to spend a lot less money on food, as well as on other things, and it has prompted me to reexamine my financial decisions in a lot of other ways, which I’ll talk more about in future posts.
So that’s the origin story of the Yachtless. If you’d told me a year ago that I would be writing a blog about money, I would have said you were nuts, but that just goes to show what a little awareness can do.
PS: Budget Bytes, where I first learned about the SNAP Challenge, is a pretty awesome website about saving money on food by cooking simple meals at home. Highly recommended. Check out my blogroll for other recommendations for interesting and helpful blogs, podcasts, and books.
Have you ever had a sudden flash of awareness about finances, or decided to make a huge change?
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