Skewed Numbers

How many times can you brush your teeth from one tube of toothpaste? Maybe you don’t know the exact number of brushings or days, but you could probably estimate the number of weeks or months before you need a new tube.

I have minimal concept of how long it takes for me to finish just about any product. Part of this has to do with having more than one on the go at the same time (think of having a lip balm in your purse versus in your washroom, as opposed to only having the one – and how much longer that would take you to finish it), or from sharing with others (I’m sure I’m not the only one to have used the same shampoo bottle as my mum while growing up). When I went away to university, I was surprised at how quickly I went through body wash and toothpaste on my own. I still don’t know how long it takes for me to complete a lip balm.

Sure, there’s the fact that different products will be different sizes and viscosity, so how quickly you hit pan or empty something will be influenced by that, too. Though I think were I struggle – and how this has influenced my excessive shopping – has to do with having taken a scarcity mindset when purchasing stuff which will eventually run out. Take the following sticker sheet, for example:

I use one sticker per day of physical activity, to track on a year-long calendar that I’ve made some amount of movement that day. I started with these last year, using some 200 of them, and continued on for this year since I’m using the same calendar format. I took this photo back in February, already concerned that I would need to find more stickers for the rest of the year. Actually, to be more honest and accurate, I was stressed that I would need to find more stickers for the rest of the year. This was my gut reaction to seeing that I had fewer than half left, despite there still being more than enough to get me through to June. Thankfully, my first thought wasn’t to purchase more, but to go through the sticker booklets that I thought might have equivalent/similar ones that could be used. I did happen to find more than enough of roughly the same size, so the stress is no longer there – but it’s also something I don’t want to carry as stress in the future.

While it’s certainly an ongoing learning process, my skewed perception of how long something will last has definitely influenced how I’ve shopped in the past. Even in a climate that has all four seasons, the amount of clothing I have is far more than I need, as evidenced by the fact that I barely have enough space to store all of it – let alone enough days in the season to wear it all. I also have bought five of something (candles, crochet hook sets, art history books) thinking that I will need more immediately if I like something even just a little bit. Even with library books, I’ll take out the first two of the series in case I like it enough to want to continue reading immediately.

None of those items are necessities (well, clothing for the sake of being adequately dressed is), but the combination of lacking delayed gratification, bargain hunting, and being a bit of a collector, I generally end up with more than I could need within any definition of “reasonable amounts.” I’ve found that things I’ve already been doing this year – being more intentional, having an inventory of my stuff, keeping track of empties, not buying anything new until I’m all out – has helped with re-calibrating my perception of “enough,” even if the learned response is still “uh, oh, need more!” when I reach the halfway point of something.

I’d be very curious to see where my head’s at when it comes to reaching the last of a category (say, liquid body wash, though I still have 10+ bars of soap), and whether I deem an arguable “necessity” to be worth refilling. For the record, body wash absolutely is, though I’m thinking about hair masks as optional. Once I get to that point, I’ll be sure to offer an update.

Shopping Habits Part 3: Forging an Identity

Here are parts 1 and 2 if you need a refresher before jumping back in.

If you take a look at your wardrobe as is, I’m sure there are a handful of things that you could infer about yourself: the colours you prefer (or prefer to dress in), the climate you live in, maybe how tall you are, how much money you’re willing to spend on clothing (or appear to be willing), maybe your job/the field you’re in, and what aesthetics you’re drawn to. I use “infer” since it’s not likely that you have a plain t-shirt that lists everything about you in neat bullet points, but instead we can make generalizations about who else wears similar (or the same) garments and has the same style as you.

With this in mind, I’m going to talk about how much I relied and still rely on clothing for my self-expression. By around age 12, I moved from only shopping with my mum to mostly shopping with friends as a group outing. Friends who lived closer to the suburban mall a metro ride away introduced me to new boutiques that were heavily marketed and engineered to draw in young teen crowds. Too afraid to split away from friends – both for safety and social repercussions – I spent many afternoon hours circling displays of graphic tees and neon skinny jeans that I absolutely didn’t need but still purchased. We were all self-proclaimed bargain hunters, but that point was negated by how frequently we shopped. As I’ve mentioned before, I had a uniform from grade 7-11, so much of what I wore was weekend cozies or Bat Mitzvah/Sweet 16 garb, with a few select outfits that fell in between. Though I never was outright copying my friends (unless ironically for Twin Day), there was still a lot of overlap between how I dressed and what they wore.

CEGEP was a bit all over the place for specific looks – I think one week I wore a burgundy duster with a tight black v-neck and galaxy print leggings, and the next day I was in a purple and black bodycon dress with a blazer and heels (and I wasn’t even giving a presentation in class). The pieces were inexpensive and easy to swap out with a basic/neutral tone top, so I had fun with intentionally looking like Cher Horowitz’s closet directory had a mind of its own. There was definitely no one here who dressed like me (or at least to this extent of zany), and I had no problem with that – especially after 5 years of a uniform. I was my own interpretation of what was on trend, I had a body that was easy to clothe, and friends that didn’t balk at my gauzy, neon, pink button-ups.

Skip ahead to university, and everything was purple. School events (especially athletics) would follow the “head to toe purple” dress code, and the more the better. My first year was the most extra for this, with me buying official and student-designed school merch, spending more on clothing and accessories than I did on textbooks. The campus as a whole would regularly wear purple on a daily basis, which we only really noticed when we left campus or the student village and encountered locals who dressed in more than just one colour. Things mellowed out by my fourth year, but I still own some 10 or so school shirts and sweaters.

For work, I knew what a Young Professional in Montreal looked like, so I stocked up on office-friendly attire before moving out of the province for work. I felt overdressed in my setting with most of my colleagues dressing more casually than I would, so I shopped some more to fit in (rather than wearing my perfectly fine and still professional clothing!!), because I already stood out enough with being youngest on staff, being bilingual, and being an out-of-towner in a relatively small community. Even after attending a fairly small university and seeing mostly the same people every day, this was the same experience, but zoomed in, which meant that feeling like I stood out was all the more visible (according to me, in my brain – no one said as much, but that’s anxiety for ya).

Where am I now with all of this? I dress as “fancy” as I want for work, regardless of how others are dressing. I’ll show up in a suit or a monochromatic look (my go-to looks for weekday work), but I’m picking my outfits according to what I feel that day (or what I have to do) rather than doing mental gymnastics of what could be counted as overdressed for the people I work with. Did I wear turtlenecks every day last week? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Also, yes – and that’s where I’m at now, not wasting time worrying about others’ response to what I wear, but seeing if it makes me happy.

You could argue that none of this matters, I just need to be clothed and respect the rough dress code at work and in other social settings. However, a key part of how I express myself – and how I feel! – has to do with how I’m dressed. If I’m in cozier clothing (pj-adjacent, if you will), I’m 100% less likely to work on Important Stuff TM and it will take me longer to go from task to task. If I’m struggling to put together a weekly summary email for a tutee’s parents, I throw a blazer on and can get back to work. The second example probably has more to do with taking a break and getting up from my seat than actually wearing the blazer – and having a few minutes to mull things over without the cursèd blinking cursor mocking me – but it works, so I keep doing it.

Overall, clothing is a key component of how I express myself. I like getting dressed up, I love themed events, and I have fun with putting together outfits and accessories. What others see about me first is how I’m dressed, which matters to me more along the lines of “this is precisely who I am,” and not at all a “what if they don’t like the way I’m dressed?” thing. How I dress will change throughout life – I don’t know that clothing from age 27 will last to age 72 – which is fine, so long as what I’m using, how I care for it, and what I do with it when I’m seemingly “done” with a piece is handled in a thought-out manner. There’s nothing inherently wrong with associating identity with clothing – who *hasn’t* heard “oh, this is so you!” while shopping with friends – I just need to be more mindful how much I’m bringing in.

Selected Luxuries

I like nice things. I’m sure you probably like nice things, too – whether experiences or physical items, there’s something out there that brings you happiness to have or experience. Nice things in moderation is the way to go, but I didn’t start with that mindset.

Going from being a student with a minimal budget to working full-time with minimal expenses (no student loans, no car, meal plan through work), I welcomed lifestyle creep into my life like a long-lost friend. Frequently travelling within and between provinces each month, attending symphony concerts like I wrote for the Arts & Culture spread in a newspaper, and shopping bargains like it was a part time job was my life from 2018 to early 2020. Granted, I didn’t go so all out that I bought luxury goods like designer bags, shoes, and clothing and wound up in massive debt, but I was definitely buying and doing more than the average person could expect to do in a sustainable way (neither for my bank account nor for the planet).

After slowing down significantly last year, I had a look at what I’d been spending my money on the most – and what mattered the most to me. As much as I love clothing, I have more than enough at this point and I don’t need more (not to mention that I’m still decluttering). Tea, planner stickers, and craft materials are still abundant in supply and there’s no need to purchase anything more for this year at all. What I miss most about my pre-2020 life (other than seeing family) was the solo adventures to museums, concerts, events, restaurants, and festivals within eastern Canada (namely Montréal, sometimes Toronto). Sure, I’d ask friends to tag along when our schedules lined up, but I’ve never had an issue with doing my own thing if I was excited enough about whatever the experience was. I also miss travel and getting to visit somewhere new or even playing tourist in my own city. Museums for me are like 3-Michelin Star restaurants for foodies – I’m willing to go somewhere with the museum as the focus and fill out the rest of my day/stay around it.

There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.

Once it’s safer to do so, travel and experiences are my selected luxuries. I’m willing to forgo following trends and buying new clothing if that means I can see a Degas in person, get a lodge seat for the ballet, or watch a hockey game in person (go Habs go!). The amount of money I’ve spent on tea in the last 5 years could have covered a trip to Reykjavik, Edinburgh, or Toulouse. The craft supplies bought in 2019 are the equivalent to the premium table seats at the charity ball I attend. I’ve also fully given up buying granola bars since they eat up too much of the grocery budget and don’t last me long enough in my two-month grocery rotation, which I mention for the sake of pointing out the smaller decisions I make, too – as not everything is gala-level for luxury to me. There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.

Personal finance is by definition personal, and my selected luxuries will not be the same as yours – even if on paper, we seem to be at the same stage of life and have other overlapping qualities. Our selected luxuries may not overlap at all if you have a family to take care of, and what you count as your luxury is time to yourself or the ability to pay off your mortgage sooner (does that even count? I don’t know, I still rent). What I would encourage you to think about is where you’re unwilling to compromise on standard of quality, freedom/ease of access, and what is non-negotiable versus things that cause you undue stress or you feel external pressure to keep up with (whether FOMO or something internalised/self-imposed). Basically, how you spend your time, effort, and money should add to your quality of life rather than cause you more stress. It will take time to figure it out, but I’d wager it’s worth it in the long run to see what matters most to you – and you can always adjust and shift as necessary – as what you’re doing is going to serve you. For example, I use a silk pillow case to protect my curly hair from frizzing – it serves me but might not do anything for you, and that’s okay.

A final point I’d like to make is that I feel having a specific or category of selected luxuries allows you to be a bit less restrictive while working toward a specific financial goal. Whether that’s a sinking fund/line in your budget for the category for one major event or smaller experiences throughout the year, you have planned for it and can get hyped about it coming up (which is half the fun for me) – or you’ll be less likely to overdo it and go all out when the event or item comes up, which in turn could throw off your budget/lead to unplanned debt. In essence, being intentional about what brings you happiness and intentionally planning for it is what I’m trying to do, and I invite you to do so, too 🙂

March Goals

I will be travelling this month to visit with family and friends in another province, and this is my first major voyage since 2020, so it will be important to focus my goals on not falling into old spending habits from holidays past.

Packing

The benefit of staying with family and friends is that I can for sure do laundry and pack much lighter as a result (also free housing). Though I’ll be away about a week and a half, I want to limit myself to 3 days’ worth of clothing plus what I’m wearing on the plane – and my usual plane-friendly toiletries – to see if I can’t fit it all into my medium sized backpack. This will be helpful when navigating through security at the airports, as well as limiting how much stuff I can bring back. The last time I travelled, I did the opposite, where I left with one carry on suitcase that had almost everything in it, and then the larger checked bag was almost empty – with the intention of it being filled with goodies to bring home for myself and for family & friends. So, it’ll be interesting to see how I fare since I haven’t travelled in 2 years. Thankfully, the temperature will be a bit warmer there, so I won’t have bulky items taking up too much space.

Spending on Stuff versus Experiences

In the past, I would budget for about 1/4 of whatever I’m spending to be on stuff. Some of it would be souvenirs for myself (again, I was very “one for you, one for me”), which would include postcards (I use them as my travel diary for each day), clothing (both of the location’s name or of something specific to the region), books, and anything else specific to the area (honey from a monastery in Meteora, Greece? Sure, why not). Then there were also the souvenirs for others – I would generally focus on shirts, fridge magnets, post cards, and anything specific that was requested based on where I was going (I felt like a bootlegger coming back from Scotland). Now, I’m not about to turn stingy and refuse to get anything for anyone (capping it at postcards and requested items) – but I’m also not going to somewhere I haven’t been before, since I’m visiting family. Regarding experiences, I’m still keen on visiting at least one museum (if it’s safe), and I like to try the food of the region/stuff I can’t as easily have when I’m back home, so I have that to look forward to as well. I’m one to do my research about where I’m going and what to do while visiting somewhere (which I clarify only because I went on a group trip with someone who didn’t do any research at all before leaving, which is mind-boggling to me), but I’m being considerate of what my budget is and how I can still do what I want to do for fun without going all out.

Staying on Budget

I’ve given myself a “for fun” budget of $75 per month at the beginning of the year, or $900 for the full year. I haven’t fully finished my planning yet, but I can both see how that money can evaporate in a day or last me the whole second leg of the trip if I plan things out well enough. As mentioned above, I’m aiming for at least one museum and one lunch out. The museum I ultimately choose will be based both on price and content, and I know I’ll want to get myself 1-2 postcards of the exhibit. I brought up the for-fun money as budgeted for the year, as I don’t mind giving myself the flexibility to spend nothing in one month to build up $150 for the following month so I’m not actively withholding my ability to enjoy myself if the situation presents itself (not that I’d go ahead and spend all $900 in a day, but you get what I mean). If I under-spend, then small stuff like taking the bus versus walking somewhere can get added to the for fun/convenience budget versus come out of my travel budget (since I hope to do some travel this summer as well).

Other than Travel

I feel like I’ve reached a good stride for my No Buy that I can keep up what I’m doing on a long-term scale without it impeding my ability to enjoy spending my time with loved ones – as opposed to bargain hunting or other shopping with the people I’m there to visit. I’m stocked for groceries, I’m all good for body products, and there’s nothing major that I can predict at this time that would throw me off course. For reading, I want to have an e-book and audio book lined up for the flights, and I’ll be stopping by the library for some fun and lighthearted fiction (most of what I have here is non-fiction, and kind of heavy).

Next week I’ll be looking at the topic of selected luxuries as well as returning for the next instalment of my relationship to shopping. Thanks for reading!

February in Review

I’m in awe of how quickly February has come and gone compared to January. We’re done 1/6 of the year, and I’ve had another successful month of not buying anything, the only things that came in new this month was groceries and a birthday gift for a friend. This month has also been quite busy, so it being over now is a relief.

Clothing:

I was able to throw together a few outfit combinations I’d never tried before, and I’m fairly pleased with the results. During the busiest points, I would make an effort to plan my clothing out the night before so I at least had an idea of what to wear the next day – though there were two outfits that I’d never worn before. For the one on the left, this can easily find its way back into the rotation, though the baby pink suit was brought out for Valentine’s Day (so I’m not sure how often I’ll have the chance to wear it).

Books:

I hit a roadblock that I didn’t know was possible: my library chose to not renew its subscription for one of the books on my list. Things also got super busy in the first half of the month, so my reading came to a halt while I was working overtime to finish a project that got delegated to me. I’ve finished both the linguistics textbook and the Monet book, and in the meantime, I’ve been listening to audiobooks through Hoopla, “I Left my Homework in the Hamptons,” by Blythe Grossberg (finished) and “The Season” by Kristen Richardson (10% done).

Using what I’ve Got:

Despite how busy I’ve been with work, I’m giving myself time to crochet to help unwind from the day – and I’m trying my hand at getting ahead in holiday gifts (I’m also the kind of person who would have started Christmas shopping for the following year on Boxing Day, so this is on brand for me). For planner stickers, I’ve been more intentional of using up ones that I would have passed over and written something out by hand instead, which has also contributed to my “make it fun” goal, as my planner is both fun to decorate and fun to look at. Regarding tea, I’ve had a solid 2-3 cups per day on average on days I do drink tea, and then 3-4 days of nothing. I wasn’t focused on drinking X amount of tea by the end of the month, which made it easier to just have some when I thought of it – rather than meeting some arbitrary quota that would stress me out if I didn’t meet it.

What didn’t work:

Expecting a goal that I set at the beginning of the month to still fit the changes I couldn’t predict is not fair to myself. I want to actively be more flexible in how I approach adjusting goals, rather than keeping myself to, say, 30 minutes of reading per day, but I’m getting to bed at 2 am – meaning I’m barely awake but forcing myself to do something for the sake of doing it rather than enjoying it when I’m rested and alert.

What I’ll keep doing:

The undercurrent of “fun” (without it being toxic positivity) made it easier for me to find ways to inject some colour into high-stress days, or step back and be intentional about finding a different – less ennui-filled – approach to some of my more mundane tasks. This could be as simple as having my upbeat music on while doing my least favourite chores, drinking my favourite tea while going through emails, or having on fuzzy socks while sitting through a(nother) virtual meeting. I like to think I usually bring an element of fun into what I’m doing, though February is usually when that takes a dip, so it was nice to have that thought-out pick-me-up in my back pocket.

Overall, I’m pleased with how things have gone this month, especially with the handful of curveballs thrown into the mix. Later this week, I’ll have my March goals laid out – and we’re going in a slightly different direction this time, so stay tuned! Thanks for reading 🙂

Soft Start

I’ve failed a lot in my personal goals throughout my life. I bite off more than I can chew, I dive in without enough planning, or I just don’t have enough information about what I’m getting myself into – all of which can lead to failure or false starts. In many cases, I’ve given up, shrugging off the sense of embarrassment by claiming that I wasn’t that “into it” whatever project or goal. Other times, I’ve left the goal aside for a length of time until I could devote more attention to it, without actually changing my approach the second time around. What usually leads to this repeated outcome is trying to make too big of a change and expecting perfection on the first go. I wasn’t reflecting (enough or period) on what wasn’t working – and would throw myself into the next thing to distract from the lack of immediate success.

I was aware of the idea of practice tests, tutorial levels in video games, and receiving training prior to beginning a new job, but my brain saw each of those as context-specific rather than something that can be applied beyond the singular situation. I also had the expectation of perfectly mastering whatever I was attempting to do in minimal time – which was partially fostered by the culture of my high-calibre schools and partially from the feedback I got from non-parent adults in my life about how brilliant I was at whatever I set out to do. I feel this is something other gifted-kid types can relate to (based on the volume of memes and tweets), and it’s an incredibly difficult mindset to break free from.

Now that we’re all sad and feeling a touch dreary, I want to point out that I’ve found something that does work (at least for me), so there’s hope. Other than planning and reflection, I’ve found that setting myself a mini-scale goal – fewer things to be changed and a shorter time scale – is not only more manageable, but it also allows me to explore different approaches if something doesn’t work before fully committing to it.

We’ll use my first attempt at doing a No Buy Year. In 2021, I was fresh off of looking at my spending from the year before, aghast that I’d been so frivolous with my money. I resolved to curb my spending and there were to be no purchases made other than food. Except, I needed a thick yoga mat for my knees, after a decade of ballet effectively turning my knees to dust. Well, and a new pair of running shoes since I’m taking my fitness more seriously. Let’s not forget the semester-long course I took, since my alma mater was offering it online. Oh, but wait – Le Chateau is having a closing sale, and I could really do with two more ball gowns, five suits, and a handful of work tops. This was all before March 2021, and after I’d gone from too restrictive to “this is justifiable, I guess,” more and more purchases were made until around July. I spent the next six months observing what triggered my spending, what I was spending the money on (… other than just the turtleneck shirts), and listening to podcasts and videos about what worked for others on their No/Low Buy. 50 hours or so later of content, I felt like I had a better idea of what could work, namely, having a set of rules (rather than full restriction), budgets for the allowed different categories, and figuring out what purpose this goal was serving.

For the latter half of October to December, I slowed my spending and shopping, left items on a wish-list for the holidays, and spent less time in stores. I had a few holiday gifts to purchase, but I wasn’t doing my usual “one for you, one for me” approach to shopping, which helped immensely. This also coincided with opening my first credit card, and the last thing I wanted to do was go all out and rack up a huge debt that I wouldn’t be able to pay off (or, as my dad put it “how many months of your entire paycheque would it take to pay off your total credit limit?”).

Trying this goal out twice in the same year – once without much structure, during a high-stress period, then later with research under my belt and a clearer idea of my “how” and “why” – highlighted the difference (for me) between a false start and a soft start. For the former, I went off the rails when the wiggle room for necessity burst open to include anything I could justify to myself, and then I quietly gave up. For the latter, I could already feel the sense of relief of not having to guess at what was left in my bank account on any given day, since I wasn’t spending money on just whatever, nor was I making unplanned purchases.

If you’re doing a Low/No Buy this year and this is your first ever go at it, I commend you. Regardless of real-life setbacks, things being over-budget from inflation, surprises/emergencies, if you’re still at it, that’s splendid. If you’ve taken a pause because now is not the right time for you, I think that’s an incredible choice for recognizing and respecting your needs over fulfilling a goal that you can return to whenever. Whether you’re on day 1, 55, or 365, your choice to try something out and stick with it (or pause) is equally valid.

Lastly, for anyone thinking of tying something new – No Buy or otherwise – I want to encourage you to start small. Even Costco lets you sample snacks before committing to a knee-high box of chicken tenders, so give it a go, one tender at a time (Editor’s note: I should have eaten before writing this).

Bye-Bye Bin & Wishlist – February

The bye-bye bin is STOCKED this month. I went through my apartment with the mindset of “do I use this anymore?” rather than “how can I still use this?” and it has resulted in a solid chunk of items on their way out.

What’s leaving? For one, I’ve gotten rid of extra pillow cases. I used to change them every other night to help with acne and frizzy hair, but since getting two silk pillow cases as gifts, I only need about 4-6 other pillow cases (I use three pillows, and I like the choice of still rotating cases out every half week or so). The clothing – llama scarf, two skirts, and a dress – are all items I’ve been on the fence about, but it’s been a year at this point, and they can go (I’ve reached for none of them). The Kirby, hexagon magnets, fun sticky notes, and posters are carry over from college days and can go onto a new dorm space. The art supplies are going to an art teacher – originally purchased as a gift for someone pre-2020, and I haven’t heard from them since, soooo in the bye-bye bin it goes. The purse poking out of the corner is going to my aunt if she wants it, and if not, I’m sure someone else in the family could make use of it. Finally, the lion was purchased for someone’s kid pre-2020, and the child has both grown out of that phase and has far too many toys (according to the mum).

What didn’t make it into the photo (aka, the stuff that I found after doing another sweep) include some tea from a gift set that I know I won’t drink, a 60%-full fabric spray bottle, and a laundry hanging rack that I don’t use at all (and haven’t for about three years).

Do I feel like my home is suddenly lighter for no longer having these items? Honestly, not really – other than the posters hanging up, most of these items were tucked away in various storage bins or drawers, so I wasn’t seeing them in the first place. Granted, the colourful cornucopia of the random stuff sticking out of the bye-bye bin is less of an eyesore now that it’s gone, so I’ll take that.


Regarding the wish-list, there’s still nothing that has met my criteria for being added. This doesn’t surprise me – I’m still not done flipping hangers, I’m spending less time on my main social media accounts (as in, my targeted ads are much more general – and sometimes wildly off-base), and I’ve been incredibly busy this month at work. I don’t want to broaden the definition of what belongs on the wish-list to be anything that catches my eye and I click on the ad, which I feel defeats the purpose since I’d be creating an emotional connection to something I wasn’t all that interested in to begin with.

I’ve also taken to thinking of rule-breaking purchases in light of how much something I want to do would cost: this $200 clothing haul would cover a flight to visit friends; this $150 craft haul is the price of a future textbook; this $50 book haul is a lunch out and a museum ticket. I’m not trying to be overly restrictive, but more so looking at long-term goals versus short-term dopamine.


Perhaps a more satisfactory way of looking at it is:
Items out: 37
Items in (not counting groceries): 0

Later this week, I’m going to chat about why I advocate a soft-start approach to personal projects – and then next Monday will be a review of February goals (already, I know!). Thanks for reading!

Capsule Groceries

I shop for groceries once ever 6-8 weeks. I only have to plan food for myself, so I’m willing to have repeats within the meal cycle, which is how I make this work for so long. For the record, I learned how to cook through a meal kit in 2020 (we had a meal plan with work before), so this is based on what I know how to do/make so far. Also, with learning from a meal kit, everything I’ve made has been in bulk (I had a 4-meal, 4-portion plan) and covered lunches and dinners for 2 days at a time. I’m also willing to have the exact same breakfast every day – plain oatmeal and frozen blueberries – since I can mix it up with the different flavours of tea that I drink.

Planning:

Flyers, pen & paper list, and scouring the website for specific prices is how I plan what I’m going to make over the next two months. I don’t have brand loyalty, and I general go with whatever is cheapest – especially if there’s a 30% off sticker for produce or meat that’s going off today and it was already on my list. What matters more to me is the budget than the brand. I approach this in a “capsule” way, in that what I’m eating will be on rotation, and will shift a bit from season to season. The biggest thing that makes this doable – especially in light of the recent inflation hike – is being flexible about what I’m going to use or pick up this time around. For example, today, I got a different brand of tortellini with different filling than usual, and if it doesn’t work this go around, then I’ll go back to what I usually get (and is usually cheaper, but the sale was in the other brand’s favour).

I also consider what I have coming up in the next two months and plan around that. I know that I’ll be taking an overnight flight in late March after visiting family, and it will take about 9 hours, door to door, so I’m going to be tired and hungry by the time I get home, so I’ve planned ahead and picked up some easy meals that can live in the deep freezer until I need them. I could have made something in bulk and stored half of it, but I know myself well enough that I’m going to have just enough energy to shove a spanakopita spiral in the oven and it’ll be ready by the time I’ve finished unpacking, and then I don’t need to cook twice that day (it’s a kilo of spanny (my affectionate term for it), so I know I’ll be super full).

Recipes:

What I use to plan these meals is a mix of what I liked from the meal kits, what I can do from family recipes, and stuff I’ve found on Budget Bytes. Each shopping trip, I’ll throw in a tester meal, and see if it works for what I want to make – especially if the ingredients can be co-opted into a different meal, or added to something else on the rotation. This trip I didn’t, but that’s because I know there’d be a fair bit of variation since my tortellini are going to be different – and God forbid I go too far out of my comfort zone.

Why I do it this Way:

I don’t have a car, and I have a weird work schedule (evenings and every other weekend). Cooking in batches on rotation is easiest for me, and the variation in food is enough that I’m not actually eating the same thing over and over. I can also plan for the easiest recipes on weeks that I work that weekend, or if I need to, I can rely on the freezer foods every so often. I also know that I’m not going to pay around $30CAD for pizza delivery when that’s roughly how much it costs to feed myself for a week.

Things to keep in Mind:

  1. There’s only me that I’m planning for. There are fewer variables to manage when you’re planning for one. The few months last year that my friend was rooming with me, we’d follow a similar planning scheme, but on a much smaller scale since he needed lunches to bring to practicum, and our schedules were flipped of each other – so we’d go every other week, but still plan as intentionally and intensively. Thankfully, we had a very similar palate, so I was lucky that I only had a few recipes to pull from rotation – and that we were open with communicating about food needs and wanting to try new recipes.
  2. I do one Costco run per year to stock up on specifics stuff like dried cranberries, oatmeal, and spices. Shout out to my parents for letting their adult child leech off of their membership (luv u)
  3. I cook within my comfort zone. I’m not hosting or entertaining anyone, so I’m not challenging myself to do more “out there” things like meals with more than 3 steps, especially if it involves meat. I’m a bit fussy about what I’ll physically handle for meat, and I don’t care much for beef or pork (minus bacon). Lastly, I’m lucky that I don’t have any intolerances or allergies, so I’m not paying extra for lactose-free cheese or gluten-free pasta.

For the more visual types, I made a mock schedule of the rotation, so you have an idea of how I keep myself fed on the same set of meals on a bi-monthly basis.

My Shopping Habits – Part 2

I’m back with the next instalment of my relationship to shopping, and how it developed over time (you might want to check out part 1 for this post to make sense). This is the narrative overview before we get into the “why” of the choices I’d made, which will be part 3.

For me, clothing falls somewhere along the spectrum of “utilitarian” and “literal art, but on my body,” with most of what I own falling in the middle, which we’ll call “I’m choosing to wear this.” I define “utilitarian” clothing based on the purpose that they serve in covering my body: warm clothing in the winter, lighter fabrics in sweltering heat, and rain boots for any terrain that is not completely dry. The “I’m choosing to wear this” clothing is what I reach for for everything else, whether that’s running errands, holiday/themed events, lounging about, fancy dress, or work. If the item can be cute while serving its purpose, splendid, but I’m not too worried about the panache and pizzazz of a knee-length puffer coat when the hair escaping from my hat instantly freezes from the humidity of my breath. I do, however, worry about what’s under that coat when I arrive to my destination and what I wear is a reflection of who I am.

I’ve lived most of my life in Montréal, which has its own mix of high fashion, streetwear, chic, trendy, and classic looks. Throughout high school, we had a strict uniform to follow, so the clothing I chose to wear was trendy late-aughts/early-’10s teen fashion – wordy neon graphic tees, layered tank tops with lace trim, and imitation Roots sweatpants (why buy the real thing when you can get the same from Garage and three v-necks for the same price?). My first semester of CEGEP/2-year college, I was dressed a mess while figuring out what I would wear every day, despite the purpose for being there was my academics. 17-year-old me knew that what I wore casually as a 15-year-old was not going to cut it (according to whom? I still don’t know). During the break between first and second semester, I went all out at the Boxing Day sale at Urban Planet, the spiritual older cousin of Shein. Spending not much more than $300, I came home with a haul of patterned leggings, sheer button shirts, bodycon skirts and dresses, and a slew of basics to balance out the zany monstrosities I dared to call pants. This was at the height of peplums, skater skirts, and galaxy print everything, in case you needed a refresher on why this was normal school clothing. I was known at school for being the leggings girl (someone for real asked me if I owned any “normal” pants halfway through the semester), which was fun until I had to mentally keep track of 30 pairs to avoid having repeats too soon after each other.

University was a whole other ball of wax in diving head first into a theme to latch onto and dictate what I would wear. Anything that was related to the school colours, I would wear it – not to mention the veritable windfall I was for the bookstore and student design shop after snatching up anything I could fit into my teeny, tiny budget. All in the name of school spirit, and I would wear purple like I knew of no other colour. This slowed a bit by my third and fourth years (limiting my shopping to only the cute stuff, and not one of everything), and other colours re-entered my wardrobe as I continued to shop sales at stores off campus.

Graduating and starting work at my first real job resulted in just as ferocious a shopping spree as 2013 Urban Planet, but now in the name of professionalism. Blazers, pencil skirts, flowy blouses, trousers, and some sensible shoes – not that I was starting from scratch, mind you, I just wanted to have options. Once I started making money, I turned to online shopping for clothing in my free time. Old Navy was a favourite, since they had a “tall” section available online, and I was in need of pants that didn’t look like they were borrowed from my 12-year-old cousin. Well, “in need” of more options, but I told myself it would be good to have more options for the days when I’m running behind on laundry and need something to wear (as opposed to, you know, just doing the laundry??). In between these hauls were the various warehouse and outlet sales that I’d go to, and I started to run out of space in my closets, so I bought storage bins and hoped that would do the trick. I had gotten to the point of such rapid consumption that there were items that would be squished and hidden between two other items in the closet that I would forget they were there, but still order more.

The beginning of 2020 did not see this slow down all that much, as I had orders coming in roughly every other week – some were necessary cookware now that I needed to actually feed myself without the cafeteria at work as an option, while I indeed still had the audacity to purchase more clothing like I was leaving my apartment any time soon (I did a total of zero Zoom Happy Hours, so it wasn’t even for that). Things slowed down more over the summer, and then my bank account got another workout once Le Château announced that they would be closing – which ended by summer 2021. I was still strategic (hmmm) about waiting for the right time in the sales once I figured out what the pattern was for additional percent off versus total percent off based on category – since that’s what normal people do to buy clothing, no?

Luckily, I didn’t go into debt over this spending habit. My need for bargain hunting outweighed any desire for an item that was full-priced, and I never got into designer or luxury clothing (thankfully). The potency of bargain hunting did a number on me, and I remember buying two evening gowns at a store-closing sale for under $15 apiece (91% off, for anyone interested). Luckily, I did have an annual event to wear them to, but at the same time, how many gowns does a 22-year-old need?

With this personal history on the books, I’ll leave the topic here for now. Catch you later this week with my thoughts why small changes are a more sustainable approach to me. Thanks for reading!

February Goals

February has been a slump-ish month for me in the past: the shiny wow-factor of the new year is gone, the sky and slush are the same dreary grey, and the next holiday feels as far away as the sun – and when I was still a student, it usually meant that midterms were ripe to pop up. However, I want to go into this month with the mindset that I’m going to choose to make it fun, rather than let the shortest month of the year drag on (especially after a January that felt like being trapped behind someone standing on the walking side of a long escalator). The overall vibe I’m going for will be “fun and flexible” since I can’t predict what the month ahead holds, but I can choose how I want to approach it.

Clothing:

I found that in January, I would reach for outfits that I’ve worn before – or combinations that I’ve tried in the past, but this time with a different colourway. I want to challenge myself creatively to switch it up a bit with what I’m wearing. I work in person, so I’m not going to throw together something that I’d feel uncomfortable wearing, like a tartan blazer, striped shirt, and a polka dot skirt (I don’t think even the Emily in Paris wardrobe team could make that work). More so what I want to focus on is to not just wear the same outfits on rotation each week, and try to flip more hangers throughout the month. I’m not setting a specific number of specific pieces to be worn, but I want to try to do about once a week either something that hasn’t been worn yet this year, or not yet together. We’ll see, this is for the fun of it, after all.

Books:

So life got busy and I’m still only half done the linguistics book, though I will soon need a new bedside table read. I’m taking a second go at reading the Monet book for the month, but I think I’ll keep that more for day-time reading – since part of what takes me so long is that I just run out of energy at the end of a my busiest days and fall right asleep. Also, as fascinating as any topic is, reading nonfiction before bed feels far more like cramming for a test than reading for fun, so I’m much less motivated to reach for it. If all goes well, I should be able to line up finishing reading Monet in time for my hold on “Do You Really Need It?” by Pierre-Yves McSween becomes available. I found this ebook while browsing through the personal finance section of Libby. The humorous tone and straight forward approach (from what I’ve read in the sample) will offer a look through categories I struggle with, as well as categories I may not have even considered. Which I think is important – seeing another perspective about how to approach spending/what’s worth bringing into my home will be something to reflect on as I go through it.

Using what I’ve Got:

I’m starting the month with a new tube of toothpaste and bar of soap (side note: had you told me even two years ago that I would think the previous sentence was content worthy of sharing on the internet, I would have cackled and continued scrolling through the Old Navy sale page). I will start a second lip balm before finishing the small tin, but that’s because I’ve found it incredibly annoying to fetch it from my work things each time I want to use it while I’m home, and possibly forget it for work the next day. For yarn, I’m going to be making a few things for family when I visit in March, but beyond that, nothing else is on my radar yet. Finally, for planner stickers, I’m entertaining myself so far with seeing just how many stickers I can use on a monthly spread page, and still make it look like a cohesive theme. I’m not at all taking this seriously, and it’s more of a “funny because I’m doing it ironically” thing – as opposed to last-year me painstakingly lifting stickers off the page because I set it down at an 80-degree angle instead of 90.

I’m focusing on smaller, more bite-sized goals for the month with the plan to turn that into regular habits, rather than carrying too much throughout the month – which my guilt goblin thrives on (the name I’ve given to the second loudest critical voice rattling around in my brain).

Coming Up Next Week:

Saturday will be the next set of printables, which focus on productivity; Monday will have part two of my relationship to shopping, and Thursday will go into more detail about small changes and sustainable goals. Thanks for reading!