All posts by Sheryl

You Are Unique, Just Like Everyone Else

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 41 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

Why do we like to believe that we are somehow the exception to the rule? Almost everyone I know does this in some way.

From the first time I went into debt, I wanted out, and that was over 20 years ago. From the first time I gained extra weight, I wanted to be rid of it. The principles are the same for both. Spend less than you earn, or eat less (calories) than you burn. I listened to the media too much. Everyone promised a way out. Everyone had a way of making it easy, or so they claimed. Over the last 20 years, I think I have tried every budget trick, and weight loss diet in an attempt to change my life. That was the problem though, I changed things (temporarily) but I didn’t change me.

I started thinking more about this recently. I am now managing my money better than I ever have in my life, and for two months now, I have made a change to my eating habits and feel that I am securely on the road to achieving a healthy weight.

There are a few people in my life that have debt problems and are overweight. Over the years, we have tried doing several tricks to get us out of debt and thin. When I started saying no to spending, I was asked about what I was doing, I explained about the concepts or spending less than you earn, and being happier with what I buy. A few people started clipping coupons, but still showed up to work with a take out coffee that sat on their desks and eventually got thrown out. When I started to lose weight, I was asked, and I explained what I was doing. Counting Calories. All of them. Weighing and measuring my portions. Tracking calorie intake and exercise expenditure. I do it all online for free. The others joined me, lost a few pounds, but then what I interpret as their need for special treatment kicked in. “I can’t do this because I have lots of social eating things to go to”, or “This shouldn’t be working because it is too easy, I need to eat –xxx– and I can’t do that on this program”, or “I can’t not spend because I’m (insert life excuse here)”.

I get it. I used to be that way.

I used to believe that simple math wouldn’t work, that somehow, when Saturn aligns with Venus, while soaking in the light of a new moon, if I froze my credit cards in Cabbage Soup while only eating fruit before noon and boiled chicken breasts at night, the universe would implode for just long enough to create a magic bullet that would solve all my problems.

Reality is boring. Repeating the habit day after day can be mind numbing IF THAT IS ALL YOU THINK ABOUT. It took me a while to learn to just set up a system, and let the system work for me. On any given day or week, I can eat X # of calories, and spend Y dollars. That is all. It works, but it required a change in my belief system to make it happen. It is hard to describe what that change was. Maybe it was a shift to concentrate on what made me truly happy instead of the bandaid solutions that I used to employ. Maybe it was disconnecting myself enough from the circus of social expectations to realize who I am and what really matters to me. Maybe it was caring enough about myself and my future to fully comprehend that when I feel rebellious and try to cheat the system, I am truly cheating myself.

Eyes Down, Nose to the Grindstone

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 41 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

Focus.  I  sometimes wonder if I focus too much.  I get into a routine, devoting attention to certain areas in my life, and the next time I look up, two months have passed.

After my spending challenge at the beginning of the year, I kept that momentum going, sending as much money to pay down my debt as I could.  I think I went overboard though.  I may have reduced too many things in my life.  I am still happy, but knowing how many kilometers I can drive on my gas budget, and leaving no budget allowance to go for a beer and wings, my life has fallen into the cycle of sleep, work, eat, repeat.

I think if I were left to my own devices, I think I would be a hermit.  I am lucky enough that the real friends I have know and understand that.  It just doesn’t occur to me to contact someone unless I have something I need to communicate with them.  Both of my best friends know that it is not unusual for them not to hear from me for a month at a time.  It’s not that I don’t care, if they called and asked for my help, they know I would drop everything to be there for them.

I interact with my co-workers everyday, both about work stuff and non-work related life stuff, and that seems to be more than enough social interaction for me right now.  Many times, I’m glad at the end of the day to be able to go home and not have to talk to anyone (except the cats) for the rest of the day.  My boyfriend lives with me, and works some evenings and weekends, and I find that works well as we both get time alone, as well as time together.

How will this work for me when I eventually retire? I’m hoping I will be able to balance social time with alone time well enough to keep myself, and the people in my life, happy.  I don’t worry about being bored when I don’t have to go to work anymore, I’m more concerned that by not being forced to have social interactions (like at work),  I may become a reclusive eccentric old cat lady. 😉

For now, I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing, it seems to be working.  For all that has happened in my life, I’ve always landed on my feet (sometimes with a stumble), my fate is not written anywhere for me to follow, I make it up as I go along.  I’ve learned that once I figure out a way to commit long term to something, I can accomplish anything, and I might decide to become a crazy old Alpaca farmer lady instead, by choice.

Spending Challenge – Finale

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

So just because I made the rules, I changed them when it suited me. 😉 As of my last post, I had $20 cash, $70 Optimum points, and $50 grocery credit left over. I have since found another store loyalty card that I had $20 to spend. Here is what happened.

I used the other $20 last week, and have not touched the remaining $50 credit. I have $15.75 left of my original $50 cash. I started to run out of the things I buy at Costco, where I have no “credits”. Looking at the big picture, I cannot justify spending twice as much per pound at the store I have remaining credit for. I spent $59.80 on my debit card.

Total dollars,  I spent all I had available to me at the start of this challenge. For the sake of keeping honest, I said I would spend $50 in cash, and the value of my store credits to see how long it would last. I feel I have reached that limit, though not in the way I set out to. My pantry and fridge are stocked fairly well, so I don’t anticipate having to go grocery shopping again until the last week of the month. I’d say I’ve done fairly well, and exceeded my main goal of paying for my overage at Christmas.  As a personal interest, I’m going to continue to see how much longer I can last on my remaining cash and $50 credit, I’m thinking 2-3 weeks.

What I’ve Learned From All Of This…

  • I’ve had an Optimum card since they first came out with the program.  I agree that it is a generous program, and had been thinking about switching my credit card over to that point system.  I won’t be doing that now.  To get full benefit from the program, you have to plan around the specials they have, bonus points days and mega redemption days.  So unless you need to do a big shop there, the rewards program isn’t as great.  I still have a stock pile of soaps, detergents, razors, paper products, skin creams etc from the last mega redemption I did.  Cashing the points in at the lowest tier to buy milk  or over priced groceries just doesn’t seem worth it.  I have enough points for the second highest tier of redemption, and I’m going to leave it there until it’s time to do a big shop there again.
  • Saying I’m on a spending challenge is a great way to politely decline invitations to spend money that I didn’t want to.  Yes I’ve been living like a hermit for the past almost 2 months (and enjoying it).
  • On the down side, I’m not sure I like the discovery I’ve found about my mother.  Her thing (even before my dad passed away 7 months ago) was to go out for a meal.  She doesn’t even seem to care what the food is like, as long as she is in a restaurant.  Since I’ve been declining her invitations to go out for food, she doesn’t seem to have as much use for me.  (I was always a lot closer with my dad than her).  She says she’s lonely, but any time I go to her house (usually to fix or move something), I always feel like she’s trying to get rid of me as soon as it’s done.  I know she loves me and is still grieving, and I may be too direct and introverted for her to relate to.  She comes to my home for the day once every weekend, she watches my TV, eats, asks me the same questions 4 times and goes home.  She is here just to not be alone.  Any time I try to engage her in conversation, she either avoids answering any questions, or gives answers that halt any further talk.  I’m not sure what, if anything, I can do about this.  It may just be a case of putting up with it.
  • If anything, my relationship with my boy friend is stronger from all this.  He has been supportive and willing to cut back on our lifestyle without any complaints.  It feels good having someone with me on this challenge.  My ex got angry when I asked him to curb his $80/week coffee truck habit.

More than anything, I feel that I have regained control of my spending.  Groceries can still be “retail therapy” for me, but that habit is fading.  With less time spent shopping and preparing fancier meals, I’ve started using the gym in my condo, and feeling better from that as well. I have some good momentum to make this year a great one, and am looking forward to seeing how far it can take me.