This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience is one of my favorite to date. Not only did it send me down a rabbit hole of other reading, it required a serious commitment from both me and Mike to call it a success. More on that in a sec, but first, let me introduce the book that inspired it all: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi.
I’m trying something different this week by using a cool new tech tool called Synth to deliver the review in mini-podcast format. Synth lets you record, at max, a 256-second sound-byte, and you can link these bytes together as episodes in a podcast. This is the perfect tool for book reviews as it requires the reviewer to be succinct. Easily record anywhere through your browser or use the app. Check out my mini-podcast review of Down and Across here, and let me know if you prefer a written review or a mini-podcast for future posts.
As I read Down and Across, I knew I’d have to plan a gritty #plotdrivenlife experience for myself. This lead to some fascinating conversations with Mike and my friends. I’d ask them to brainstorm ideas for gritty experiences, and everyone’s first suggestion was some kind of physical feat like a Tough-Mudder or a full marathon. These were the initial ideas that came to my mind, too, but, at the time, Mike and I weren’t in any position to physically exert ourselves; I was in my second trimester of pregnancy and he’d just undergone shoulder surgery that required six months of rehab. We’d have to get creative.
I’d been toying with the idea of going on a “spending diet” for a while, inspired by a story that was shared as part of an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Happier by Gretchen Rubin (listen to the full episode here), and when I approached Mike about trying this as a “gritty” experience, he was surprisingly eager to partner with me. We decided that we’d commit to a “no-spend month” for all of February, and we set these guidelines:
- Can spend on necessities (groceries, personal care items, medicine, dog needs, car care, cleaning supplies)
- Can’t spend on frivolous items (dinner out, Starbucks, Amazon sillies, pampering, clothing, accessories, entertainment or books)
- Exceptions: each of us gets one previously scheduled “hall pass” for the month
- Explore freebies we already have access to (new Netflix or Amazon Prime shows, services through the public library like Hoopla)
- Find and use gift cards to “treat” ourselves
- Put saved money towards debt
- Cook more recipes in the Instant Pot and explore the pantry and freezers for food to use up
- Get creative with gifts for Valentine’s day
- Tackle nagging tasks (like getting the nursery in order and sewing those ribbons on that banner I’ve had for a year)
I have to admit that on the evening of January 31, I was itchy to spend. I kept asking Mike, “Do we need anything?” and “Do you want to go get ice cream or coffee or SOMETHING?” I wasn’t excited about the idea of cooking at home almost every night or not being able to buy a cute new shirt for my growing belly. Mike, calmly, told me to relax, and we dove right in to no-spenduary, also, thankfully, the shortest month of the year!
The hardest part for me was all of the meal prep and cooking. I attended a conference for several days and shared a hotel room with friends, but I made myself pack a large cooler of snacks, and I even planned out two nights’ worth of dinners to take along. And on weeknights when I was tired after a long day of work, I really wanted to go out to dinner; it took great effort to make a new recipe. Plus, pregnancy cravings are real, people!
Mike was an awesome partner through the whole month, and I relied on him to keep me on track. We grocery shopped together, even switching to a discount store for the month to save even more money. And if I was in doubt about whether I should spend money on something, I texted him:
I pampered myself with home “spa” treatments (thanks, Color Street for the easiest mani on the planet). For Valentine’s Day, I recreated a dish from one of my favorite local restaurants, and when we had to replace Mike’s phone because it wouldn’t charge, we carefully researched and chose a discount cell phone carrier that ended up saving us $30 per month on our bill! Overall, the whole experience encouraged me to be more mindful of my spending and to fully appreciate experiences I’d taken advantage of before: I nursed the free Starbucks coffee I saved to enjoy with a friend, and when we did treat ourselves to our first dinner out in March, I ate more slowly, trying to savor the experience.
I read a lot, too. I read Grit by the real Dr. Cecily Mallard aka. Dr. Angela Duckworth. Grit is the highly readable compilation of the author’s research into the practices of particularly gritty people as well as her guidance on how to develop grit in oneself.
I read The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, a memoir about a (fellow Canadian!) young woman with addiction issues who demonstrated true grit by committing to a full year of limited spending and self-reflection.
If you’re considering your own no-spend month, I recommend you read this fascinating article by author Ann Patchett who writes about how hard it is to decide what to do about gift-giving when you’re diet-spending. I liked her idea so much that my plan is to give books (and maybe accompanying book-inspired experiences) as gifts as often as I can.
So, while this experience was a real challenge for me and Mike, it’s left a lasting impression on both of us. We’re no longer restricted to eating at home and swearing off Amazon, but we’re still being thoughtful about how we spend our money. The result of our no-spend month? I saved 24% of my salary, and I feel a bit more gritty as a result.