Thursday, November 6, 2008

What I Learned from My Month of Nothing

Before I began my Month of Nothing I hoped that I would change my perception of money and my definition of "need." I didn't expect to actually learn anything that I didn't already know. And while most of the things I "learned" this month are actually just reminders of things I knew once upon a time but had forgotten, I actually learned a few new things. So here, in no particular order, are the things I learned from my Month of Nothing.

1. We don't actually need all that much.
I expected to have to really think about what was a "need" versus a "want." It actually very easy. Tali's coat? A need. Those shoes on sale? A want. Ten pound bag of potatoes? A need. That bag of potato chips? A want. I was surprised at how little I really needed. Food for my family and a few other things (laundry detergent, cat food, straw and feed for the chickens, a new coat for my kids, and some school expenditures that couldn't be avoided) were the only things we really needed. I hope that I'm able to take this new vision of what is a need vs. want into the future - especially with Christmas coming. What gifts will they still be enjoying a year from now and which will have lost their appeal and be in the "give away" bag?

2. I can feed my family very well for much less than I routinely spend.

This was one of the most eye-opening things I learned this month. I expected to really have to be creative (and I did, sometimes), and bake from scratch all day long. I expected to have to ask my family to sacrifice in the food area (and they did, sometimes). But overall? We ate really, really well this month. I fully expected to clean out my freezers and use all the meat I had stashed away, I didn't. I hardly touched my freezer stash.

As I mentioned in my Menu Plan Monday post this week, we ate a lot healthier during the month. We ate veggies and fruits instead of crackers and chips and cookies for snacks. We very easily got our servings of whole grains. We ate lots of oatmeal (a new favorite), brown rice, homemade whole wheat bread, and homemade muffins with lots of whole-wheat flour thrown in. We ate a lot of beans this month, and liked it. We ate a lot of soup and bread (at least once a week, most weeks twice). Soup can be very cheap and nutritious and bread is too. We will be keeping the once-a-week soup and bread practice.

Up until the last week I didn't really feel deprived at all. The last week was harder, mostly because I was tired of baking and my life was crazy with outside activities. If I would have baked more earlier and thrown it in the freezer for those busy times, I would have been fine. Lesson learned. Which leads me to my next point:

3. Cooking from scratch really does save me money.

Making biscuits from scratch instead of Bisquick, making muffins for snacks instead of chips, cookies, and crackers, making bread to go with our meals instead of buying bread or buying something else to go along side our meals, all this really did save me a bundle. Making soup from scratch instead of buying canned helped, too. Cooking my beans from scratch instead of buying canned wasn't that much harder and saved money. Eating at home instead of eating out obviously saved us tons. And it wasn't really that hard. Sometimes life got busy, but if I would put a little extra work into making extra when life isn't busy, I'd have some already made when life did. Good lesson learned.

4. My children are willing to forgo material possessions - for awhile.

My kids were very willing participants in this experiment - for the first two weeks or so. Then they started to whine a little. It was a novelty at first but the excitement wore off fairly quickly. They wanted treats for their lunchboxes, they wanted to go to Taco Bell, they wanted to buy popcorn at the Saturday kids matinee movies (that we bought tickets for in September). They didn't want to go without. But they really didn't whine all that much. They were fairly good troopers.

This taught me two things. First, that I have done a fairly good job of raising them without a sense of entitlement. They didn't really express the thought that they "deserved" these things, just that they wanted them. The second thing I learned was that small treats go a long way to making people not feel "deprived." If I hadn't have been doing the month of nothing, I would have bought them one thing special for their lunches or made one trip to Taco Bell. These single things would have left them feeling satisfied. If they get those things all the time, the trip to Taco Bell is expected. If they get them occasionally, then the trip is special.

5. Having chickens is very helpful.

Got to love having that constant, free source of eggs. You can always make scrambled eggs or one-eye egyptians, or pancakes, or waffles or crepes. With a well stocked pantry (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, etc ) I can always make muffins or quick bread with my eggs, too. It was really nice to walk up and get my free food for the day.

6. Going vegetarian can save you tons at the grocery store.

We didn't eat all vegetarian this month, but we did eat a lot of meatless meals. Partly because of the vegetarians in my family, and partly because it is cheaper. Beans cost way less then beef! Brown rice costs very little compared to chicken or pork. I'm not ready to go completely vegetarian but I am more than willing to do meatless a few times a week. And vegetarian doesn't have to be some weird frou-frou sounding food either. Homemade mac and cheese, bean and cheese burritos, toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, Good ol' rice and beans, a bean and vegetable soup with bread, spaghetti with marinara sauce, cheese fondue, pancakes, waffles, crepes with berries - all of these are vegetarian and are SO yummy. Better for our health anyway - well, as long as we don't go overboard on the cheese.

7. There is a certain freedom in "not being able" to spend money.

I mentioned this before but there was a real freedom in being able to say "no" to things. Sometimes we feel obligated to buy things when we really don't want to. Like when your friend's kids are selling overpriced candy bars and beef jerky for their softball team fundraiser. During the month of nothing I had an excuse for saying "no." I need to come up with something new that sounds legitimate. I hate to just say "no" because I feel so guilty, but the reality is that spending money on every opportunity that comes in front of me is a really quick way to go broke!

8. I use far too much gas in a regular month.

Do I really need to elaborate on this one? I got through the whole month with one tank and $10.00 worth of gas. Why can't I do similar to this most of the time? I feel very fortunate that we live where we do. I can walk to work, we can walk to church, we are within walking distance from the elementary, middle and high schools, we can walk to Safeway, Dollar Tree, Walgreens and Taco Bell. What more could we want? (Ok, I never shop at Safeway except for the emergency stuff that we forgot - it is just way too expensive.) The only place I really "need" to drive to is Winco for food, because it is the cheapest place around. I just need to stay home more, plan my trips better and walk!

9. We are
so incredibly blessed.

This is the thing that I learned the most profoundly this month. We are not at the top of the economic ladder, by any means. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that I don't have a house as nice as so-and-so, of cars like those guys, or go on vacations like those other people. What I learned this month is that we are really lucky. We have enough to buy food. We are in no danger of losing our house. Our cars are paid for. We have a well stocked pantry should anything weird happen. We are healthy. Hubby and I both have good jobs that we like going to everyday. We live in a free country. We have clean air to breath and clean water to drink. I have nice clothes and plenty of them. My kids are getting a good education. I have friends and family near by to support me.

Sadly, sometimes it takes us having "nothing" for awhile to realize how much we really do have. If for no other reason, I'm really glad we did the month of nothing. I'd encourage you to try it, in whatever form works for you family.



Nancy said...

Sounds like it was a very educational month. I try to do a lot of baked goods from scratch -- cookies, muffins, breads -- but I find after about 3 weeks of doing really good that I get burned out and cave. Either I need to make larger batches and freeze some so I can give myself a week off or I need to convince myself that it's ok to buy these items once in a while. Also, we try to do soup, breakfast and vegetarian one night a week to save money; this means 4 nights a week we eat "normal" food as our youngest calls it.

katie said...

What a wonderful lesson, you have really inspired me. I would really like to do something like this (maybe after the holidays). I also think burn-out would be my biggest problem. I will have to challeneg myself to this one month when I feel I can really commit to it.

Nancy M. said...

It seems like you did learn a little something. It was great to read all your posts this month and see which things I can put into practice.

momstheword said...

When my husband was out of work for almost a year we had to learn alot real fast, and at first it was hard. You know, now, that you can get along with less, and there's a comfort in that!

Amy said...

Sounds like your month of nothing was worth it! I've been waiting for your "What I learned" post. Truly enjoy your blog...