awareness, budgeting

Origin Story

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:

Totals for January 2015
Totals for January 2015

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?
Leave a comment below!

11 Comments on “Origin Story

  1. Thanks, NDQ! It’s amazing what a difference this has made for me. I can’t believe how many years it took me to start paying close attention to what I spend money on.


  2. For us, the sudden awareness came in spring of this year. We had no financial goals but a lot of debt, which at the time didn’t seem like a lot of debt because we bought into the notion that one’s mortgage is actually an “investment.” Within six months, we completely changed our lives and charted a new course, albeit a yachtless excursion. 😉

    1. That’s awesome! Yachtless excursions are the best excursions. It’s so, so encouraging to me to “meet”/hear from people like you who have made substantial changes in their lives/finances and are already seeing a payoff. I’ve made a lot of changes over the past ten months or so, but the biggest ones are yet to come — I finish my dissertation in two months and transition into post-student status, aka Loan Payback Time. :/
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Great start to the blog Sarah! 🙂 I’ll keep on following and checking out the occasional post..

    I’ve not really had a huge realisation or ah-ha moment with finances however over time I’ve started to realise a few important things like pay yourself first and understand how to generate cash flow rather than earning more cash..

    Awesome to see someone doing well with it and like the design of your site too!

    1. Thanks, Jef! I think we all get to these realizations in different ways — what’s important is that we get there somehow! 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  4. I just started reading your blog today and wanted to point you to a great resource because you are in a health-related field. Have you ever heard of the NIH loan repayment award (LRP)? I don’t know your career objectives (like I said, just started reading today), but if you stay in academia and are working towards an independent research career and do NIH-relevant work, they can help pay off your school loans. If you win one of these competitive awards, I think they do up to half of the total balance per 2-year contract, and it’s renewable. I had almost 100k in loans paid off through this program through 2 contracts! My 2nd renewal (3rd contract) was not funded so I have about 15k left to pay myself, which is NOTHING compared to the original amount. The applications are due in November and I think they start the payments the following July if you are selected. You can probably google all this information, or I’m happy to answer any questions if I can. Not sure what your debt payoff timeline is, maybe you’ll have your debt paid off before you’d receive the award, but I just wanted to point you to this program if it is relevant for your career trajectory.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks so much for mentioning this program, J. I actually am familiar with it because my PhD advisor was always talking about it, but I don’t know a ton of details. That’s amazing that you were able to use the program to get rid of so much of your debt! As for my career objectives, I’m still trying to figure this out. I finished my PhD in January and am currently doing clinical work and trying to decide if I want to pursue a career in academia or not. It’s definitely an ongoing question. But this is definitely a good option to keep in mind — thanks for sharing a little about your experience with it.

      1. No problem! If you end up applying to the LRP in the future and want some strategic tips I’m happy to help if I can. Also, 2 more side hustles to consider based on your background. Have you ever heard of AJE (american journal experts)? They are a scientific editing company that helps improve manuscripts mostly for foreign authors looking to publish in English language journals. There are several roles that basically boil down to language editor and peer reviewer. You might be a good fit for an editor position – there is a lot of regular work for this, and you can make a couple hundred dollars a month at it for sure depending on how much time you have (at least that was the pay scale a few years ago when I did it). It ended up being too time consuming for me because I don’t have a writing background, but it may be really easy for you. The peer review jobs are very rare, those come around once every few months, but you can get several editor jobs a week if you want them. Also, b/c you are a freelancer, have you ever looked into writing for Science Daily? I have no idea what they pay but they put out a ton of articles every day so they must need writers.

        1. These are such great ideas, thanks! I hadn’t heard of AJE, and it sounds great. I just reviewed an article this week and it took hours and I (of course) didn’t get paid, so getting paid to edit/review scientific work would be amazing. I will check it out! I’ll look at Science Daily as well. Great ideas! 🙂

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