Each year around this time, it is customary of me to start reflecting on how the year has shaped up and to start thinking about what would be carried over to the next.
A big step up for us lifestyle wise this year has been cooking. We are barely buying any convenience foods anymore and when we do buy some, it is to try something new and if we like it, then the recipe search starts to match and beat it. The same philosophy applies to eating out. Thus our dining out bills have plummeted. This was one area I thought I would have a lot of trouble changing because I love to eat out and I love the restaurant atmosphere. I still eat out--mostly for lunch where I feel I get more value and can enjoy things I cannot cook/find to cook easily like duck.
For some reason, I had some mental block that said that I could not, cannot, would not cook until I have the rest of my life in order. That's crazy and I know it now. Our weekend cooking time, where we make a large batch of something is something I look forward to. The time it saves over the course of the week is amazing. We aim to free at least half so after a few weekends, we have an assortment of meals we can draw from. Not that the cooler weather is upon us, we have been baking bread, making stew, chili etc.
Setting up a number of "working" bank accounts for household repairs, car, travel, etc. was this year's project. I haven't had enough time to decide if it will be as beneficial as my mind tells me but my goal is to eventually have $5000 in each account so that if I need to buy paint for example, I'll just draw from that account, thus not using up current cash to pay for it. At the end of the year, I'll know how much I've spent say on household repairs and top it up accordingly.
We are in negotiations about getting rid of one our cell phones. We are on the lowest amount of "pay as you go" plan but now that I walk to work, it doesn't make sense to keep it. On the expenditure front, we did buy a world phone this year. It comes with 100 free non expiring minutes and has no monthly plan. The reason for it was that we had some hassle with an apartment rental in France last year and the experience of looking for payphone and tabacs that sell the phone cards took a lot away from our vacation. North American phones are on a different bandwidth so they don't work in Europe. As we are committed to going to Europe each year, we felt it made sense for our situation. It worked great on our recent trip.
Eating less meat is something I will also bring along into the new year. By doing so, it helps me achieve a couple of goals--spend less on groceries and make it much easier to decrease my caloric intake by 100 calories a day.
I started using an excel spreadsheet this year to track cash flow. My husband works in a salary position but I am self employed. My income can fluctuate significantly so I am the variable in the equation. Before the spreadsheet came along (this is after much coaxing from my husband), I didn't budget or anticipate with much high accuracy. I didn't owe money on credit cards or anything because of my mishaps but I would spend when I could and didn't when I couldn't. Savings was always a priority.
Now, I feel like some kind of wonder spreadsheet wizard. I use it to plan for potentially tough times. After 10 yrs of self employment, I know how low it can go and that's where I set my projections for the next 4 years. With the economy being what it is right now, I've set my income lower to see if we can still meet all of our yearly goals that involve money. If I cannot, then I can then figure out what has to go or where do I draw from to make it work. It is a great exercise and I spend a good amount of time tweaking it.