I have been 26 for 8 days. This time last year, I set out to accomplish 26 goals in my 26th year. To paraphrase a sappy song, some of that I did, most I didn’t. I love setting birthday goals, and last year, I might have gotten a little carried away.

26 goals is a lot of goals. The ones I actually successfully completed were clear. #7: Read 26 books. #8: Go to Mexico. #10: Submit for publication. #19: Save for H’s wedding (which was last weekend by the way, and I saved more than I needed to.)

I was less successful when the goals were vaguer. #9: Hike more often. More often than what? #14: Cultivate frugality. #26: Find direction/self-knowledge. I’m not sure what I meant by that a year ago, but I am certain I didn’t manage it.

Lately I’ve read two books on creativity by Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work–both great, as is his website) and I’m rereading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (she also has a great website).  I think Kleon’s advice is good for regular life-living in addition to creativity (Develop Skills, School Yourself, Don’t Throw Any of Yourself Away, Be Nice, Be Boring Get Work Done) and it might help with the whole “find direction/self-knowledge” thing. And of course, I love anything as structured as Rubin’s happiness project (one topic each month, a lengthy reading list, 12 goals is not quite as many as 26 but still respectable and possibly even achievable).

But lately I’ve also been wondering what if I let myself do whatever I want to do? What if I didn’t go into this year with 27 new goals, or even 12? What if I just let myself explore?

No goals–scary thought. Total freedom and no judgement or guilt about what I do–even scarier and a little bit mind boggling. What would that even look like? What would it feel like?

But that’s the plan. Kind of.

I do have a couple guiding questions for the year, some things I’d like to consider in this unstructured happiness/creativity voyage.

1. What makes a family? How do you make a good one?
2. What do I want to do with my life?
3. What is fun? How do you have it?

These three questions seem like a good place to start investigating happiness; they boil down to connection, purpose and pleasure. But to be honest, I feel vulnerable even asking the questions. It’d be easier to go back to goals like “see the Grand Canyon” or “hike more often.”

These questions also feel a little beyond the scope of this blog, which ostensibly is about money. So maybe it will change. I have some ideas for growth on this–keep an eye out in late October/November.

On Sunday, two more buttons fell off my phone.
On Monday, my boss gave me a bonus check for my birthday.
Today, I ordered a new phone.
It wasn’t really because of the buttons. Buttons, it turns out, are superfluous to phones because the real buttons are underneath, made of metal, and probably much harder to destroy. It was because yesterday one of my fellow wedding-hating friends pointed out that my current cellphone does not take very clear pictures and she’d like to experience the full wedding-bitch-face. Also, it has been brought to my attention that Hillary Kitten will probably lose her presidential campaign unless she gets an Instagram.
So I avoided getting a phone for a few weeks because of the rape, murder and exploitation surrounding conflict minerals. And then I got a new phone to better share my grouchiness and for cat photos. And the buttons.
My soon-to-be new phone is a Moto G with Republic Wireless, the plan all along. Motorola gets its coltan from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the epicenter of conflict minerals and the largest supply of coltan (and similar minerals) available.
This morning I read that Motorola has developed a closed pipe-line to ensure that their supply of coltan and the tantalum derived from coltan, is obtained legally and is conflict-free. Is it true? I don’t know–someone reported on it and it is on their corporate responsibility page. Does it work? I don’t know. An identifiable supply chain was one of the recommendations in the documentary I watched, Blood Coltan, but whether Motorola’s supply chain really is conflict-free, I don’t know. The actual companies and mines involved in the supply chain aren’t listed (that I can find in my albeit short search) and to be honest, I wouldn’t recognize the names even if I found them. I am limited by my own knowledge and understanding of the problem, which is cursory at best.
I am limited by my ability to withstand the temptation of a new toy.
Sarah Gilbert would call this an ethical trap. Trap 29: Everyone does it. Trap 34: Society’s reactions. Trap 25: Reduction. It’s no big deal. Trap 14: Self-enhancement. And like Sarah Gilbert, I’m helpless to avoid the traps. I can only choose which ones I fall into and how often.

Lately I’ve been dreaming of the lotto again–a sudden radical leap to the finish line of financial independence with zero effort, zero waiting, and zero control. Like the hare, I want a quick and easy victory, a gift from the universe.

Reality is more like the tortoise. No great leap forward, not even $1,000 saved this month, but another $417 set aside like last month. Another step on the way to $5,000 saved this year, $25K in five years. Not fast, not exciting, but steady and boring. It could be worse.

September’s Final Numbers
Total Income: $2,664.71
Total Spending: $2,135.12
Difference: $509.59

I wasn’t as careful about tracking my spending in September as in August. I was surprised to tally up how much I spent in restaurants this month when if you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that I’d hardly eaten out at all. Restaurant meals so easily forgotten probably weren’t worth the price.

I look at the individual totals and see big exceptions.  I bought a bike. I finally paid for my bridesmaid dress. It’s easy to say if it hadn’t been for those purchases, I could have saved $1,000 this month, so theoretically I should be able to save $1,000 next month. But, every month sees big exceptions. Next month my membership with the Clinton 2030 Foundation (tax deductible! still regrettable!) is due, an unusual $230 I already know is coming. There’s H’s wedding and my birthday and the work gala, and I have no idea how any of those events (especially the last one) will derail my spending.

It’s better if I can try to be the tortoise: take it slow, write down my spending, forgive myself if I *only* save $417 instead of keeping the big money. It’s still savings. It’s still progress. It’s not small potatoes. But it is hard to see it that way when a couple of months ago the higher bar seemed so achievable. Turtles climb under bars and keep going.

My cell phone is dying. I started looking at new cellphones after two of its buttons fell off at the family reunion in July, but never committed to a new one. Starting last weekend, I can’t hear anything unless the phone is on speaker. Not exactly convenient when my boss is calling.

But then I think about an essay by Sarah Gilbert I read in CNF’s sustainability issue. Yes, an essay is keeping me from buying a new cell phone. Oh, the power of the written word. Cell phones are not the point of the essay, but they are mentioned briefly, and the coltan that goes into them.

I’d never heard of coltan before, but it is a metallic ore, used for the production of tantalum capacitors, which sounds like a weapon in Star Wars, but is actually used in almost all electronic devices like computers and cell phones. Mining of coltan is linked to violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as human rights abuses like child labor and slavery.“It’s possible that two children died so that you could have that mobile phone,” said Jean-Bertin, a 34-year-old Congolese activist in one of the articles I’ve been perusing while writing this. Someone probably died for my cell phone, someone else bought guns with the proceeds. In the essay, Gilbert asks, “how many cell phones have I owned in my life?”

I can count four, maybe five. Two or three laptops. An ipod. A GPS. All with coltan, not that coltan is the only blood mineral, just the one I’ve heard about.

So as long as my dying cell phone with its missing buttons still sends texts and makes calls, even if only on speaker phone, I want to use it. If I’m patient, maybe I can delay the inevitable purchase of another product built on the suffering and death of human beings. Delay it, but not refuse it. In spite of what I now know, I’ll still be buying a cell phone.

The title of Sarah GIlbert’s essay is “Trapped” because we all are.

…besides not coming up with clever titles.

Work is nuts. Sometimes in a crazy-stressed-out-can’t-sleep-at-night-anxious way, sometimes just in a holy-shit-how-is-it-already-three-o’clock way, but pretty consistently in a nuts way. Like, one day this week I ate breakfast between 11 am and 3 pm. I got out my breakfast at 11, and by 3, I ate it. This is not unusual. It’s that busy.

To cope, I’ve hunkered down into my habits. I’m pretty proud of this (we’ll see how proud I am next week) because it means I’m finally learning that crazy-stress means I need more of the fundamental stuff, even though there’s less time. So I focus each day on two things: my exercise and creating order.

I’m doing Booty Quake’s off-skates derby strength program right now, which is hugely tough (my legs have been shaking for the last three days). It isn’t wildly time-intensive, but it is one more thing to do each day. Today was a running and short strength session.

I’ve also adopted UnFuck Your Habitat’s evening routine and daily chores. The evening routine actually takes care of my eating too (one of Gretchen Rubin’s fundamental habits) because it forces me to prep my lunch at night, not in the morning. Also breakfast, so at least it is ready to go, even if I don’t get around to eating it until 3. Most of the stuff that UFYH recommends, like making the bed or cleaning the cat litter, are already things I do, but it helps me remember that these things really do matter when I’ve written it down as a “have to do.” And it helps. The apartment isn’t perfect, but it is presentable.

Sleep is the hardest thing to come by. Between work and the heat, I’ve been waking up each night, and I’m up a little later than usual most nights too. So far it hasn’t killed me yet, but we’ll see how this weekend goes.

It isn’t on Gretchen Rubin’s fundamental list, but writing is on mine. I’m still getting in my morning pages, and a poem if I can swing it in the a.m. But other than that, nothing. On the one hand, I feel guilty about this, but on the other hand, well on the other hand, I’m doing the best I can.

Money wise? Better hope nothing is due before I can get to the bank on Saturday. The savings account is wildly healthy, the checking account is making me nervous. I could easily transfer some funds over, but I always worry about “remembering” to transfer them back, so I’ll just keep an eye on things in the meantime. It isn’t like I have time to shop.

Remember when I said that August was the month of big purchases? Well it has carried over into September as well. 

To start, I foolishly signed up for a membership with The Clinton Foundation’s 2030 Initiative, their young people program, basically. Cost of membership? $230 annually (which is $10 cheaper than paying monthly). Yikes. It was a total impulse purchase too. There was an event in LA that I wanted to attend, but as it turns out I can’t, so the next one is possibly in November. It seems very unlikely that I’ll get my money’s worth on this membership, so the only consolation is that I love the Clinton Foundation, and it is 100% tax deductible. So. 

Second, I bought a bike yesterday (Bike thieves: if you are reading my blog, I hate you). It’s a beauty and I’m looking forward to biking to work hopefully for the first time on Friday (if I can get a helmet before then). Cost of the bike: $350. (Add a $43 bike lock, and it’s $393). I’m a big believer in bikes (though I wish I was a bigger rider of bikes), mostly because this seemed pretty true when I was biking to work at the GS. The bike is an investment. It’s just kind of a big one, and maybe a risky one (“what if I’m too lazy to ride to work?”). Expect updates. 

Third, I finally paid for my bridesmaid dress for H’s wedding because she asked for it. So there’s $128 that I owed and have now paid. Technically, I’d already saved the money for this dress, so actually transferring the money to H shouldn’t sting, but it does. 

Total for the first nine days of the month: a lovely $751, not including little things that don’t merit a whole blog post on their own, like the snacks I had to have at work yesterday (chips + chocolate), or the gas I purchased, or the groceries. 

The Clinton 2030 membership was a total impulse buy. The bicycle was half an impulse buy. I spent a day or so searching, and I asked a trusted friend for a recommendation, and then I bought what she recommended. Not much soul searching, definitely no budget searching. And I can’t have any more of these impulse purchases this month, which brings me to my new game. 

For the rest of the month, every purchase requires a 48 hour wait time. Every purchase. Grocery lists are to be made in advance. Gas is to be anticipated. “Hmm, quarter of a tank? Will probably need to purchase gas within 2-3 days, make a note.” There is nothing that really can’t wait two days (knock on wood… prove me wrong, September, I dare you). 

Here’s my current anticipated purchases list so far:
-dinner tomorrow for the GS group I volunteer with (to be reimbursed)
-rent on Friday
-health Insurance toward the end of the month
-birth control pills around the same time

There will be gas. There will be groceries. There will be derby. But how much and when remains to be seen. Not in the next two days, at least. 

 

August was the month of $200+ expenses.
$213 for Hillary Kitten’s vet appointment
$243 for plane tickets to H’s wedding
$349 to give a mattress to my sister as a moving/early birthday/early Christmas/maybe next year’s birthday? present

There were some $100+ expenses too.
$125 for new glasses
$107 in DMV registration fees

It stressed me out, especially toward the middle of the month because I had this great new “save $1,000 a month” goal and I was definitely not going to achieve it. To be honest, I thought my expenses might outpace my income, and I’ve been on a pretty good streak. Plus, I was/am just stressed about life in general so big money costs (even ones I planned for like plane tickets) made me feel worse.

What’s funny to me now, looking back on the month as a whole (and at my trends overall) is that high ($100+ is when costs start to feel high to me) ongoing expenses don’t stress me out. Consistently paying $100-$200 in gas doesn’t fit with what I want for my life. Grocery bills around $300 (not this month, but in several months past) is ridiculous for a single person. When my spending is out of line, my life is usually misaligned too. 

On my August goals:

  • Groceries: according to my records I spent around $180 on groceries. No $150, but better than the $300 months.
  • I worked out consistently, probably close to 5 days a week, but as stress levels increased, tracking decreased, so I
    can’t really say for sure. Gretchen Rubin’s questions definitely helped.
  • I wrote poems consistently for one week out of the month. The rest of the time… not so much. Writing is usually the first thing to go and the last thing I do.
  • Save $417: check! I did not save $1,000 this month, but I could have come fairly close. I transferred the $417 into my savings account today, and I’ll probably try to write a bigger check for my car with some of the rest.
  • I stayed pretty thorough with my monthly tabulation, and it helped! My final tally was only off by $0.91 which is the lowest it has possibly ever been.

September goal: survive? It is possibly just survive. We’re trying to keep expectations low around here.

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