Accidental Side Benefits

I’ve been tracking my discretionary spending since February – every dollar I spent has been written down and considered and agonised over. It’s been a very rewarding practice in discipline and in attention to detail. I’ve learnt a lot about how quickly money can vanish when you aren’t paying attention, turned into coffee and glitter and blown away. 

While I’ve learnt a lot about what I spend, the most surprising thing is that for once, I succeeded in not buying clothes. I have set goals on countless occasions to stop buying outfits and shoes and accessories, only to be thwarted by my own materialism. I allowed too many flash sales and pushy friends and bored lunch breaks spent window shopping to get in the way of actually exercise some willpower. And so I never did. But this time, with my focus on using my $120 a week on things I truly need or that spark joy, all of a sudden – I have only bought one item of clothing since January. In comparison, I was too scared to even look at my credit card statements (other than to pay them off in full) in 2014, as I always knew I’d spent hundreds more than I could acknowledge ok clothes I didn’t even like that much. This shift says so much to me – that clothes do not, in fact, spark great joy. That there is more to my life than looking a certain way or being a certain way. And that my willpower is much stronger when it is directed to creating a small habit of writing down my spending, than pushing myself to quit something or utterly overhaul my life. 

I continue to track my spending in handwritten A4 sheets, and entering the data weekly in to my spreadsheet. Some weeks still suck – for example, I was right on track last week until an extremely aggravating parking ticket pushed me over the edge by $3.62. And sometimes, the urge to splurge is so overwhelming it hurts. I use a bunch of strategies to stop me in these moments: looking at my savings balance; physically walking away from the temptation for five minutes; looking at my sheet of tracked expenses to remind me what it’ll do to me; just saying no. And slowly it works. 

The best part about tracking my spending is that by the end of the year, I hope I can report back that I have only bought a few more items of clothing. Starting with socks, because if I don’t get a proper pair of socks that actually match soon, my adult status is going to be revoked and that would be a tragedy. 

My approach to exercise

It is impossible to escape exercise and fitness as one of the foundations of 21st century millenial life. Exercising more/losing weight/being fit is goal at the forefront of most people’s minds. The number of people participating in fun runs, half marathons, triathlons and other “fit”events has increased enormously.

I am not immune to this trend – in fact, I love exercise. This is very lucky, as I also love food, and all of the “you can’t out-train a bad diet” truths aside, at the very least I’m committed to moving my body, which usually results in a natural desire to fuel it properly.

Anyway – a sermon on exercise and health is not why I am here. Rather, I wanted to share what I spend on “exercise”. Prepare yourself. It’s kind of mortifying. 

To start, I’ll lay out what exercise I do. I found an amazing group training group last year as a result of a Christmas gift from my parents. It revolutionised my attitude to exercise, and was the first form of fitness I actually stuck with, consistently, for an entire year. I saw changes I never thought possible, and I refuse to give up on that group now, after everything it has given me. 

I also recently joined a country-club style gym with my boyf. It is a 6 minute walk from our apartment, and has a huge gym, an indoor and outdoor pool (unfortunately not full sized, but we can live with that), tennis courts, squash courts, and, hilariously, a bar (in fact – two bars). 

The group training costs me $35.88 a week.

The gym costs me $34.50 a week.

So yes – I spend $70.38 a week on “exercise”. That’s approximately 7% of my weekly take-home pay. I note, for completeness and a better insight to my confessional, that my work provides me access to a free gym. 

 This total also does not include expenditure on the following, which I label “exercise incidentals”:

  • Activewear (maybe my most tragic weakness?)
  • Appropriate footwear
  • Triathlon entry fees (my next half ironman was a breathtaking $400, just to enter)
  • Fuel/nutrition (gels, protein powder, bars etc.)
  • Gear (tennis and squash racquets, tennis balls, gym bag, water bottles, sunnies, bike services, and so on)
  • Washing the never ending pile of sweaty outfits 
  • Pool entry for when I want to swim 50m laps (about $6/entry)
  • Game fees for netball (I won’t be playing this any longer, but last year it was $10/game)

You get where I’m going. I am a sucker for exercise, and affiliated activities. One of the motivations to track my expenses this year is to get an actual figure on what I spend on exercise. I’m convinced it’s a very high number. However, the only thing I could definitively tell you is what I spend a week on entry fees places – the rest disappear into cute amounts I can’t place, and can’t put an exact figure on at this stage.

I do note I labelled this category as “exercise” and not just plain old Exercise. That’s because to a large degree, this category is also Entertainment. Despite not being in a fantastic economic position, signing up to our country club was one of the best things the boyf and I have done for our relationship. The aforementioned shoebox apartment gives rise to strong feelings of claustrophobia sometimes, particularly when you live on top of each other. I always wanted to live somewhere with a pool and gym, but those options were significantly more expensive and more poorly located than our current place. We worked out we could stay at our place, and join the gym, and come out ahead by about $50 – $80 a week, and have access to better facilities than if we’d upgraded our place. 

We also found that this option gave us somewhere to go to get out of each other’s hair when things got a bit too much after long days or just general life stress. Even better, going together has given us a really healthy dimension to our relationship – we have fun conversations while playing squash that aren’t complaining about our day, and when we swim on the rooftop, overlooking the sparkle of the city while the sun sets, we feel grateful for each other and for the little things in the day. 

So at face value – I spend way too much on exercise. But I believe in investing in my health, and in my relationship, and the current set up achieves both of those outcomes. I definitely agree it can be done cheaper – there are thousands of work outs available free online, via apps or Pinterest or ebooks or Instagram – but unless you stick to them, they are useless, simply mental clutter. This category, for me, defines the “personal” of personal finance. I’m excited to share more about it as I transition into the second half of my twenties (nooooooooo!!!) and as I undertake a focussed approach to my finances in 2016.

2016

Ushering in New Years is one of my all time favourite activities. You can taste the hope and celebration in the air, as people resurface after Christmas and step on to the streets, sending out the message that they are here, that they matter, that life is to be lived joyfully, noisily, surrounded by those they love. 

I’m spending 2016 looking for a way to joyfully, noisily enjoy my life, and see some real goals actualise. The main goal is to consciously work with my money. I have unconsciously, or haphazardly, given due regard to my dollars. But this is the year for tracking, saving, and getting ahead. 

To start, I bought the Mindful Budgeting planner from Blonde on a Budget. Unfortunately it didn’t arrive before I left on holidays (current location: Miami!), so I’m looking forward to using that planner once I get home. My biggest stumbling block is having a clear understanding of where my money goes. I become almost wilfully blind to where it’s gone. So consciousness is my personal buzz word.

Once I’m in a normal routine again, I will share my weekly status report. That sounds so dull. But as I said – I want to be joyfully, noisily living my life. And without some solid understanding of what I do with my money, and my motivations for doing so, I can’t find the peace to live joyfully and noisily. 

For now – I have a week ahead in the Florida Keys, before heading to DC, Trinidad and Tobago, and finally, back to Australia to press start on real life. I’m really looking forward to sharing this year with you all.