The day I broke my frugal month challenge

Today. That would be today, y’all. Well, yesterday by the time you read this, but the fact remains that we’re only halfway through January and I just absolutely annihilated all of the savings from the spending I previously hadn’t been doing this month.

I have to laugh at both myself and the universe here. Wasn’t I just saying that because of my uber frugal month challenge and my double side hustle income that January’s spending report might possibly rival December’s success? Or that the frugal month challenge was going strong? That was literally two days ago. Clearly the universe heard that and decided to throw me for a loop.

I’ve had an expensive day. The numbers aren’t finalized, but I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 today. Considering that was the sum total of my expenses last month excluding rent, I have well and truly broken the uber frugal month challenge.

At least it wasn’t worse?

In a surprise to absolutely no one, much of this spending was prompted by my car. I took it into the mechanic this morning, crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t get horrible news, and proceeded to wait for the phone call.

I’m realizing now that I’m trying to write everything that I don’t remember the specifics, and this is what I get for leaving my notes from the phone call at work instead of putting them into my purse!

The error code my car threw out about my fuel system being too lean was a vague one, but the guy at the auto shop said there’s a lot of air in the system that’s likely causing it. There’s something about loose clamps on something that might’ve let a lot of air in, plus potentially a crack in the fuel tank (gas cap? Dammit, where are my notes?). So there’s a lot of carbon buildup in the system as a result, which they’re going to clean out. The hope is that cleaning out the system and reducing the air coming in will keep an oxygen sensor from failing (or that the air/carbon buildup is the actual problem, and not the sensor itself. Again, need my notes).

I will absolutely be asking about what happens if it turns out later it is the sensor (and hoping it’s something that can be done at home instead of paying someone to do it).

And while they’re in there doing this, they’re just going to go ahead and replace my spark plugs because my car is 11 years old, has 151,000 miles on it, and it’s time for that anyway. I’m all about the preventive maintenance to keep super costly problems from happening later on!

This should also fix the fact that my car has been idling higher than normal for a few weeks (I initially attributed that to a bad tank of gas, and it got better after a week or so but it’s still been a tad high). And here’s hoping even in the horrible cold that last week was the first and last time I’ll see 29 mpg when I top off my gas tank!

I called my father about everything–he’s the one who’s done all the routine maintenance on the car since my parents bought it new–to ask if things made sense and if the estimate sounded decent. And then I went ahead and told the auto shop to do all the work. So yeah, I’m dropping approximately $350 on my car to fix all this. On the bright side, the guy said most everything else looks “not bad for a car with 151,000 miles.” I’ll take it.

California dreaming

And on the same day as that expensive phone call with the mechanic, I bought a plane ticket. Technically I bought it on Tuesday, but because it was through Expedia, I had 24 hours to cancel just in case. Those 24 hours have since expired, so the ticket’s mine.

Why buy a plane ticket in the middle of a month where I’m supposed to be challenging my spending habits and saving money?

Because I thought about it for a while and I wanted to. Because I value travel. Because I value time spent with my friends and family. And honestly I value an opportunity to get out of the cold grasp of DC winter for a weekend spent in sunny LA! 😉

Also this trip just so happens to coincide with my birthday weekend. Yep, I totally did a spendy thing and decided to do something fun and out of the ordinary for my birthday. YOLO and all that, but this is money I thought long and hard about spending before I actually did (plus I gave myself the out of being able to cancel within 24 hours in case I decided it was a bad idea after I actually bought the ticket).

And because this isn’t habitual spending. I don’t buy plane tickets every month and I don’t travel all that often (hiking trips don’t count, and drives home to NC only barely count). This absolutely falls under my list of things that are worth spending money on, even if it screws the numbers for the challenge month. It’s just a matter of timing that it happened in January instead of December.

Timing is key

Admittedly this timing sucks. I knew I was going to need someone to look at my car, and the diagnosis there could’ve run the gamut from “things my dad and I can do when I drive home in a few weekends” to “holy shit should I just decide that’s not worth it at this point for a car that’s so old and worth relatively little?” I was likely going to have to spend at least some money on my car.

But I’ve also been looking at the flight a bit more than idly for a week. Prices kept going up (I should’ve just bit the bullet and bought the tickets when I first looked) and by Tuesday, I figured I should lock in the lowest price I could since it seemed unlikely that a month out I was going to stumble upon an amazing deal.

However, I should’ve done more than just idly consider the trip for a few weeks and decide only recently that I was actually going to go. If nothing else, the tickets would’ve been cheaper, and all this wouldn’t have happened on the same day. But alas, I didn’t, and I can’t change that.

In big personal financial news, I also just made the change yesterday (such a confluence of events this week) to up my 401(k) contribution from 13% to 20% and that’ll be reflected in the paycheck I get next week. I’ve got another job now so I should be fine with the reduced paychecks but I’m also terrified because that might’ve been too aggressive off the bat. Besides, just because I’m working every weekend for the next few months does not mean I’ll continue doing that all year–especially after I’ve paid off my debt–so I can’t really calculate how much money I’ll make from that this year.

I can always lower my contribution later if it turns out to have been too high, but I’d much rather not.

Why I’m not freaking out (much) about this

I can count on one hand types of instances in which I’ve spent this much money at once: buying a new laptop (yes, I’m a Mac user), buying international flights, buying a year of car insurance (hahaha, cars are great), and every time I send rent over to my landlord.

Given that and the new decision to reduce my W-2 paychecks, I should be flipping a shit about this. I mean I am—who is ever totally calm when the $350 they thought they were going to spend unexpectedly doubles?

But. Remember that time things got driven (heh, car puns) home to me about the importance of an emergency fund? I took that lesson and made a car fund goal in Qapital in July after the windows debacle. My goal is $1,000, which is my current deductible on my insurance: I wanted to make sure if anything happened I could self-insure for what insurance wouldn’t pay. I also wanted a separate car fund because in theory that wouldn’t feel as bad as taking $1,000 from my emergency fund if it was specifically earmarked for car things.

Well, I can’t say that this is what I envisioned using that money for, but I made a savings account specifically for my car. It’s time to use it.

Bonus: I’ll figure out what happens when you pull some money out of a Qapital goal early! (I’m still laughing about the fact that this contradicts things I was talking about literally two days ago. There’s definitely a “life comes at you fast” joke here, even though I don’t have Nationwide insurance.)

As for the trip, well, I don’t have a savings goal set aside for that—this wasn’t premeditated far enough ahead for me to do that. But it conveniently turns out I’ve got $370 sitting in my tip jar. In theory the money I’m saving via that app is for a massage fund, but that money’s pretty fungible (also I’m hoping when I get my act together enough to see a chiropractor that I won’t need such a large massage fund anymore!). I’m okay with emptying what I have so far to pay for a flight to LA.

Time to go crazy?

Now that January is officially not an uber frugal month, I can just forget about the challenge for the rest of the month and buy whatever I want, right?

Nope. It’s time to double down.

While the numbers won’t look very good, that doesn’t give me an excuse not to make mindful decisions about my spending. The $700 day was an anomaly for sure, but I am not going to let that dissuade me from continuing on with the challenge.

Snow day FOMO

Oh yeah, and did I mention this all happened on a day when my parents got almost a foot of snow in central NC—where it hardly ever snows—but up in DC we only got enough to make the sidewalks treacherous and to ensure I had to spend a few minutes this morning clearing off my windows before taking my car to the auto shop? Not fair!

My mom just texted the family to say that the dog was so worn out from his epic day of playing in the snow that he couldn’t even beg for his dinner as usual tonight. Poor thing.

If we’d had a snow day, I could’ve had two $350 days instead of a $700 one! Oh well.

19 Replies to “The day I broke my frugal month challenge”

  1. I think you’re doing just fine. The uber frugal month helped position you to not have a total freak-out about all that transpired yesterday. And all is not lost! Think of it like a diet… You’re allowed a cheat day every now and then. So yesterday was an unexpected cheat day. You’ll do great the rest of the month!

    1. Thank you! And you’re right—I’ve bought a few things that were pretty necessary, but other than that and these big expenses it’s been a pretty low spend month.

  2. At least you have money set aside to cover these expenses. The bummer, of course, is that you have to now replenish that, but it’s better than having to scrounge around to cover money you don’t have.

    Hoping next month turns out more favorable.

  3. Car repairs are the worst. My eight year old Corolla has decided to implode in the past year, and every time I go to the repair shop I’m shelling out more money. But it’s totally a necessary expense, and it’s awesome that you have a savings account for it.

    1. Noooo! As the owner of an 11-year-old Corolla, I’m telling yours to stop falling apart!

      Having a car isn’t a necessity for me, which makes it even more imperative that I can cover car expenses!

  4. That’s awful about your car! I feel like that’s the one inevitable thing about having a older car especially during the cold times in the winter. Well on the bright side it seems like it could’ve been a lot worse.

    Jealous you’re heading to LA! I lived out there for a year and miss it like crazy (especially this time of year).

    1. It definitely could’ve been a lot worse, especially since it ended up being a bit less than they quoted me for!

      This is my first trip to LA and I am soooo excited! I just keep telling myself that every gross, cold day that passes here gets me one day closer to a long weekend of sunshine there 😉

  5. $350 on the car is gross, but it doesn’t seem like there was any choice. Thankfully, you had savings in various accounts to cover it! And awesome job increasing those 401k contributions. I used to play with it like that, too. If I had trouble making my credit card payments it meant I was contributing too much!

    Also you reminded me to check my Acorns account that I set up as an experiment a while back. I have, like $275 in there, woo hoo!

    1. It ended up being $270 and yeah, it’s not like I wasn’t going to pay that and continue driving around with my check engine light on instead, waiting for some serious problem to happen! I’m getting my first paycheck tomorrow with the 20% contribution taken out, so we’ll see what that feels like ?

      Haha I forgot you made that account. Yay for surprise money!

  6. Cars are money pits but an unfortunate necessity for most of us.

    But mucho kudos on the 401k boost! That’s significant. Look at it this way, those extra 401k savings and the interest they’ll soon earn will pay for that car repair very soon. And then over and over again.

    1. You’re right, that’s a good way to look at it! And that starts with tomorrow’s paycheck so I can see what portion of that car repair I’ve already saved.

  7. Shoot, I thought you were going to say $700 just for the car. I’d say $350 is a steal. Or maybe car repairs are just more expensive in my area? And that is what you’d pay in just one month for a small car loan, so I’d say you’re way ahead.

    And I can’t argue with the plane ticket – our unexpected week to Hawaii in November cost us $1800 for 4 of us. Totally worth it though.

    1. You’re right, considering my car was a gift from my parents, $350 (actually $270, yay!) to keep it running is a small sum in perspective.

      So totally worth it because Hawaii ? ?

  8. Man, I’m always relieved when we take our car in and it’s “only” $350. I’m always braced for far, far more. Of course, our car is hitting a point (5 years/60,000 miles) where everything will start to need replacing soon.

    My car has been idling high too. It’s got me pretty concerned and it needs to be looked at by a mechanic soon — I’ve already put it off too long. Tim insists that it’s a normal rate, but it buzzes/hums and that can’t be a healthy sign for a car.

    Good for you for getting even more serious about saving. It’s tempting to just give up, but now you need those savings more than ever, eh?

    1. Yeah I don’t care what normal supposedly is, if it’s not driving like it should be, there’s something wrong! Here’s hoping that something is minor, though.

      Thanks for reading!

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