Super Great Free Alternatives for Pretty Great Spendy Stuff

Being frugal is hard, and one thing that’s hard about it is that there are really ingrained ways in which money seems to seep right out of your bank account.  These manifest in expensive habits that all of us have.  I think my expensive habits are quite similar to many people in their 20s, and they mostly revolve around food/beverage consumption.  I spend a lot of money on groceries because eating in an environmentally sustainable and ethical way is really important to me.  In my last post I discussed insourcing which is a way I’m trying to cut down grocery spending while still being able to shop at the co-op.

However, a big chunk of my spending each month goes towards eating out, going out for drinks, and working or hanging out at coffee shops.  I don’t do each of these things very often, but when you add up how often I do all of them combined, it probably costs me around $100 or more per month.  I’ve come up with some surprisingly satisfying free or much cheaper alternatives for all three things above.

Eating out: My friends and I have taken to hosting dinner parties and inviting each other over for dinner or food-based get togethers.  Hosting get togethers can be expensive, but making sure to plan it ahead of time so you can delegate dishes for people to bring helps a lot.  Another good option is making these into potlucks, where everyone contributes a dish and it costs little more than eating at home.

Going out to eat usually is a limited venture with one or two other people.  When you begin hosting get togethers you end up socializing with more people at once which helps expand your social circle.

Coffee shops:  I love coffee shops.  I like to go to coffee shops to do homework, read, look at people, and just generally feel like I’m part of the community in which I live.  I’m a research assistant which means that the vast majority of my work hours happen by distance, meaning that I work from home or from coffee shops.  Since I realized how productive I can be when I work outside of my apartment, my coffee shop spending has increased.

I started thinking about what it is about coffee shops that I like: I like the atmosphere, I like the ability to focus, I like being in a situation where I could meet new people, and I like spending time at a place that isn’t my apartment.  Then it struck me, libraries.  Libraries are places where people can go to study, with the added benefit of being less busy and less loud than coffee shops so that productivity is likely to increase.  The only problem was that the U of M’s libraries don’t have the right atmosphere and the county libraries I’ve been to either don’t have the right atmosphere or are really busy and can get loud and crowded.  I decided to start researching smaller libraries within 3-4 miles of my apartment and visited the Linden Hills library about a week ago.  It’s 3.8 miles away and the bike route to the library takes me along Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun.  Linden Hills library is sunny, small, and quiet (I took a picture of it’s loveliness below) enough to really focus but not so quiet as to be unnerving.  Both of the times that I’ve worked there I’ve been incredibly productive, haven’t spent any money, and have had friendly conversations with other library patrons.

Going out on the town:  Sometime’s you’ve got to let loose.  Whether it be going out for drinks, going to a concert, going dancing, or whatever, spending time out at night with friends is a certainly satisfying way to pass a weekend.  But with drinks costing $3-$5 each and cover to dance nights or clubs, your nightly bill for going out on the town can easily surpass $20-$30.  Here are a couple of ways to decrease this spending.

  1. Free dance nights.  Haley and I biked to Hipshakers at the Kitty Kat Club on Thursday and had a wonderful free time.  There was no cover.  We drank only water and part of a free drink our friend was bought.  We shook our hips, talked, had a good time, and biked home happy and exhausted.
  2. Drinking at home.  Okay, pre-gaming is not the thing to do anymore.  But having some friends over for a couple glasses of wine before a night out is totally okay.  Then, when you’re out, you can just get water, or perhaps one cheap drink and you’ll save money and still not feel like you’re awkwardly sober in a sea of drunken people.
  3. Not drinking. While I really enjoy going out with friends, getting’ my groove thing on and all, waking up in the morning exhausted and tired from a late night out always makes me feel like the day is wasted.  Choosing only to drink one day on a weekend, or maybe one to two days a month, doesn’t mean you can’t go out with friends.  It means that you will just choose to drink water while you’re out with those friends.  At first, it might make them uncomfortable, but they’ll get over it quickly and might feel inspired enough to try the same strategy for themselves from time to time.

I feel very certain that the above things are not only good, frugal replacements, but that they are genuinely more satisfying options overall and will enhance my quality of life beyond just saving me money.

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The Book I Recommend to Everyone: If The Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl

You might be skeptically criticizing this book already. Yes, it is a dating/spiritual/self-help book and includes occasional requisite discussions of uncommon religions (like Quakerism and Sufism).  But it is so much more than that!  Charlotte Kasl brings a warm compassion to every reader of this book. She holds your hand and helps you peel away the masks you’ve created for yourself to get closer to true happiness.  This just so happens to be a good strategy for dating, but the book is quite applicable to other relationships and life in general.

I was introduced to this book by a good friend while studying abroad in Northern Ireland, and the concurrent reading of this small dating book made our friendship so much richer and more rewarding.  This is honestly the only book I will ever need when it comes to living life in a spiritually and emotionally healthy way; it is also the only book I’ll ever buy about dating.

Essentially this book discusses how to remain mindful and honest in dating situations.  This first requires you to examine past relationships and set yourself right.  It guides you toward understanding what you’re looking for in life and in relationships.  It teaches you how to be authentic, shedding the masks that conventional dating books and popular culture tell single people that they must don in order to be attractive potential partners.

The most important piece of this book for me has been her lessons on attachment and acceptance.  She discusses how attachment to an idea, a person, or a feeling will inevitably cause suffering.  However, if we live moment to moment, consciously grateful and aware of the lovely things in our lives, and able to welcome new things and let go of losses, we will suffer less.  Unhappiness and heartbreak will come into our lives, and if we aren’t so attached to being always happy, the presence of these feelings will not cause in us so much suffering.  She also advocates acceptance of whatever we’re feeling in the moment, and not judging ourselves for feeling afraid, or angry, or depressed.  Instead she says that certain feelings are cues for us to examine more closely.  We might think, “Interesting, I’m very angry about that, why is that?”

Kasl discusses that when you get wrapped up in thinking or in your thoughts, you might start thinking that your thoughts define reality.  You might think, “I need to keep this relationship.”  This causes you to alter your relationship with reality and with your partner.  We are adults, and do not need any one other person, and if this relationship were to end you would be sad but would eventually heal, and become stronger, and move on.  When we get wrapped up in thoughts like this we do not act in accordance with our authentic self and we may end up clinging to a relationship that is not right for us, simply because of a fear to be alone.

As I’ve been lately trying to be more mindful, through regular meditation and yoga practices, I’ve found some surprising benefits.  I’ve been more focused, productive, peaceful, and happy.  I’ve had a greater awareness of and appreciation for my surroundings and have been surprised by spontaneous bursts of happiness and gratitude.  I’ve only been practicing mindfulness for a short while and it has greatly enriched my life.  However, as a cautionary note: pursuing mindfulness for any goal can be an attachment in itself.

One part of this book that I particularly enjoy discusses how to be alone (which is discussed elsewhere, in poem form).  This part speaks to my heart:

“Sometimes we open our heart, date lots of people, and stay true to our path, yet no lover is forthcoming.  This tests our faith and our ability to accept what we are given…  There may be absolutely nothing wrong – no deep block, no problem, nothing you could have done differently.  It’s just not your time right now, for no particular reason.  Your path is to find acceptance, to be at peace with yourself.”

“Ultimately, life is about knowing who we are and being able to accept the inexplicable rhythm and pulse of our journeys.  We move from asking Why me? to reflecting on what befalls us.  We learn to say, This is my life right now.  What can I make of it?  What can I learn from it?  How can I feel joy? “