How We Had Our Lowest Monthly Spend in a Year!


We’d been keeping track of our expenses as per usual, but the final results still surprised us.

Every grocery shopping trip, every massive Costco run, every fill-up of gas, etc. got duly recorded, but August turned out to be our least expensive month in a long, long, time.  Sadly, we’re lacking readily available computerized records earlier than January 2015 (and I’m too lazy to dig up the paper records), but we spent less this past than any month in 2015 and 2016.  By a substantial margin…

How did this come about?  Here’s a post-mortem of sorts, and the findings–when not cringe-worthy for showing us our excesses–are both laudable and promising.

We Actually Returned Unwanted Items!

First, the shameful truth: We didn’t always return items that did not work out for us.

Perhaps it’s because we frowned upon people at Costco who returned clothing they’d worn for months or perishable grocery for the full purchase price–come on, seriously?–and we didn’t want to be like them.  (And, really, we do think that some people abuse the generous return policies not generally found in other stores or countries.  Don’t try that elsewhere before asking first!)

But perhaps we’d gone to the other extreme of thinking that we won’t be like those annoying other consumers.  There were times when we decided that we’ll live with our mistake purchase as due punishment for having made a bad buy.  We sometimes rationalized it too by saying that the clothing we got on a huge sale would be welcomed (with their price tag still on them!) by Goodwill or Salvation Army or Amvets.  They will go to some good use, etc.  Or, we got too lazy and never got around to making the return and then felt a bit sheepish about returning brand new items six months after purchase.

Once we started counting our dollars more (yes, we skipped counting pennies), we decided that we can certainly return some items without necessarily turning us into consumer parasites.  So we returned brand new sheets that didn’t fit our mattress.  We returned two curtain panels (out of four) once we discovered that we could make-do with another set of two we already had.  (Not quite perfectly matching, but who looks at hem-lengths of sheer curtain panels anyway?)  We returned a six-pair package of cotton shoe liners when we actually opened the package and saw that they had annoying adhesive inside the liners that were not advertised on the outside.  Perhaps we could live with one pair we didn’t want to wear, but why be stuck with six?  So the whole package got returned.

Well, lo and behold, as we became more picky with what we kept, our expenses dropped as well.

We Are Optimizing the Way We Eat Out

Last year, we came across the revelation that we tended to spend less money AND enjoy our restaurant experiences more when we were intentional about when, where, why, and how often we went out to restaurants.  That has made all the difference in dramatic reductions in our dining budget.

This year, we went further in optimizing our dining experiences.  An earlier post talks about how we opted for nice lunches instead of for more expensive dinners, how we frequented BYO restaurants and familiarized ourselves with which nights each of our favorite restaurants had prix-fixe menus available.

Another option we’re taking advantage of involves restaurants, microbreweries, and “beer markets” that allow you to bring in food from outside while enjoying their alcoholic beverages.  Our most recent evening out involved us getting some wonderful take-out BBQ and bringing it over–two doors down–to a place that offered a vast selection of beers.

We sat outside at an outdoor patio table, and Will contentedly sipped a session IPA while Katie lay by his foot with a bowl of water at her side (courtesy of the restaurant).  Spare ribs, “burnt ends,” beef brisket, pickles, caramelized brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, and a Smores pie sandwich=$25.  Two specialty beers plus tip=$14.  We’d gladly spend another $39 for such fulfilling experiences, and we know that we’ve spent several times that much for dinners we didn’t enjoy nearly as much.

We’re Discovering that Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Costly

Above, you can see a photo from our latest trip to downtown Chicago.  Yes, it was just yesterday (Sunday before Labor Day) so not part of our August budget.  But still, it’s good to see that we’re carrying over our lessons month-to-month.

In any case, the picture above is from the Jazz Festival in Chicago’s Millennium Park, on the lawn of the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion.

Two round-trip rides on the Chicago Transit Authority=$9 for the two of us.

12-piece fried chicken dinner (with rolls and a pound each of potato salad, cole slaw, and macaroni salad), several bunches of organic grapes, and donut holes for dessert=$26 to feed us and our three friends.

Two bottles of wine=Free!  Well, not exactly free since we purchased them at some point in our lives, but it was good to be able to bring them to our entertainment rather than having to purchase over-priced and inferior wine at the concert.

Free world-class jazz concerts, good friends, a warm early September day, plentiful food and drinks for $35.  Why spend more?

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