Thursday, January 2

The Spending Freeze in 2020

I feel like I owe you a little update on our infamous spending freeze. I know I mention it a lot - but I haven't really talked about it since we kicked it off last January. So here's what's up - how it's going so far, where we're at a solid year into the spending freeze (more like a spending ice age, I guess), where we're headed from here, a few pro tips we've picked up to help you nail your own spending freeze, and even the unexpected benefits we've found in the midst of our freeze.

1 Year In

Over all, it's going pretty good. I'd say we're solid B+ material. I can't give us a A because after a super strong start at the beginning of the year, we slacked off over the summer and into the fall. We saw amazing results in the first couple months. Like it was insane how much we saved and what we were able to pay off. So you'd think it would be easy to stick to it and keep compounding the benefits that were so clear. Right? But no. It's proven to be a struggle month after month to stick to our budget and say "no" (not always successfully) to the things that aren't budget approved. Some things are obviously outside our budget and easy to pass over, but somehow these other, sneakier things slowly and surely creep their way in. A pack of markers here, a new pillow there, picking up dinner again. It adds up SO FAST. It's all the little things that seem so insignificant that they shouldn't even count. Like the budget shouldn't even notice that they landed in the cart. But THAT has been our downfall and budget-buster time and again.

It's a fine line between things we can use vs. things we need. In this season it's become abundantly clear that these are two very different things.

But, in spite of the slip-ups, we're still buying less that we were. And we're still seeing improvements in our finances. So we're keeping our chins up and counting it all as learning and growth as we continue working toward that goal of a zero-extras budget. We know we can do it, because we totally killed it back in February and March of last year. We just need to put on our big girl pants get back to that "no" lifestyle.

What We've Paid Off:

If you've been following us very long at all, you know we upgraded our mini van to a Ford Transit for more room hauling our boys and because it doubles as a sweet little camper for our family. Our #1 goal for the spending freeze was to pay off that van. And we did it. In like four months. I couldn't believe it. It was great. We felt amazing. This was easy! And I think that was the tipping point toward us slipping up the rest of the year. We felt like we had this in the bag so we let our guard down. But still, that debt is paid off. We met our main goal. And it is so, so sweet.

We also finished paying off the last bit of loan on my husbands car.

We even paid off the last bit of the college loans we've been dragging around for the past ten years.

We fortunately have totally avoided credit card debt thus far (I am so thankful to our parents for helping up to realize that importance early on!) so the only debt we have left is our mortgage.

But wait, there's more. On top of paying off all these things, we were able to save up enough money to take a trip to Paris in the Fall. Add that to the list of things I never thought I would say. It was my first international trip and it was amazing and we paid for it all up front with no debt.

When I look back, I tend to focus on the slip-ups we made and all the ways we could have done better - but then I look at this list and how much we still managed to accomplish. Now I realize we didn't do so bad after all. And I can't wait to see what we can do next!

The Future of the Freeze 

The question we get asked most is: When will the spending freeze be over? Especially now that it we've accomplished so much in the last year. We should be done, right?

But we're actually planning to keep it going longer... and, in a way, indefinitely. We want to create a lifestyle of saving. And I hope, at some point, to stop calling it a "spending freeze" because it will just be our normal. I hope that our baseline will always be buying less and saving more. We do think we'll slacken up at some point, but we know now how vigilant we need to be when that time comes. We want impulse purchases to be a thing of our past. I admit, it doesn't sound super fun up front... but I love to daydream about the amazing things we can do if we live a lifestyle of building our savings (or building wealth, in Dave Ramsey's words).

So that's the somewhat vague, long-term goal. But we also have a few more concrete goals we'd like to work toward:
  1. Building our emergency fund. I'll be honest, we probably should have built this a little deeper before springing for a Paris trip. I'm setting a bad Dave Ramsey example. Sorry, guys. But we're planning to set a more solid base for ourselves. Just in case.
  2. Saving toward a couple projects around the house. Like the treehouse our backyard has been begging for and running a waterline out to the garden. We've also been toying with the idea of a couple larger renovation projects like knocking out a wall by the kitchen or adding a master bathroom. But we're still deep in the Cost vs. Benefits analysis for those guys. Which could take years.
  3. Paying down our mortgage ahead of schedule. Not like super fast, but just paying more than the minimum each month to work toward being totally debt free.  
  4. A huge rug for our living room.
Keeping Things Realistic

I know those are a lot of lofty goals. And we have to stay realistic.
  1. We won't get to all those things at once. Obviously. And we'll have to wait until we've saved up for each one. No debt, peeps.
  2. There will be seasons when we save more and seasons when we spend more. We just came through Christmas, for goodness sake. BUT, even in that "spend more" time, we still made a budget. And it was our smallest Christmas budget ever. We shopped within our means and gave our kids a great Christmas with great memories. We didn't save as much as other months, but we didn't spend more than we were able or more than we should. That's the freedom of a budget.
  3. Unexpected things will come up. That's what emergency funds are for and why we need to build ours up.
Unexpected Benefits 

In the midst of the big freeze, we've found some wonderfully surprising benefits in our home:
  • We're finishing half-done projects, fixing up things that have been on the back burner, and just taking better care of our home instead of always looking for a new project to begin.
  • We're working with what we've got - making the most of what we have instead of buying new. It's freeing to realize how much we have and how little we actually need.
  • We have less clutter. We're not constantly bringing new things into the house, and I have used the calm season of fewer projects to keep purging what we already have. Our home is less crowded, less cluttered, and easier to tidy up. (Looking at you, toys.)
  • I'm getting organized (mostly with empty amazon boxes and a handful of Dollar tree organizers) and making things easier to find and easier to use. It's easier than ever since there is less to organize, and the things I'm organizing are things we actually use and need.
  • Our home just feels more calm. Probably due to a combination of all those things. 
So our home definitely didn't suffer during the spending freeze. We focused on the good in our home and the ways we could maximize what was already working. Sometimes - many times - that meant purging things that weren't working. And bonus - purging was FREE. We used what we had to make improvements (check out our low budget office makeover, bathroom update, and master bedroom refresh!). We learned to be more content where we are. We lived the belief that every house can be a home, and it can be a home that you love. Even when the budget is tight.


Spending Freeze Tips

This is the best advice we can give you at this point: BE VIGILANT. The trip-ups are sneaky. Don't let them fool you. And here are our other top tips:
  • Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. Start there, and never look back. 
  • Every purchase matters. Even the ones that seem insignificant. 
  • Things you'll use are not equivalent to things you need. Learn to tell the difference. 
  • Don't be afraid to say "no" even when you're friends say "yes." You're building your best life by saying "no" now, so you can say "yes" later. 
  • Don't do it alone. Having a spouse or a friend on the same page is invaluable. Someone to say "nah, you totally don't need that" or "let's eat at home tonight."
Final Thoughts

Now that we've managed to do all this in less than a year, I can't help but ask - where the heck was all that money going before?? We have proven to ourselves beyond a doubt that we were being wasteful. There's no sugar-coated way to say it. We weren't doing the best we could with our money. It was (and still is at times) hard to stick to a no-extras budget. But we have seen clearly the benefits it holds. So we'll keep fighting for every penny.

Here's to more saving in 2020!

Let me know if you have any questions or spending freeze tips to share! Are you on a spending freeze? Let me know how it's going!

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