Updated on 11.01.07

A Financial (and Personal) Commitment For November

Trent Hamm

Over the last month, I’ve been re-reading Your Money or Your Life slowly and carefully for the book club, and it definitely again shifted the way I think about a lot of things, as I wrote about in the conclusion.

One thing it made me realize is that I already have all of the things I really value the most. I have a loving wife, two great kids, a nice home for them to live and grow in, plenty of options for entertainment, a website that I truly enjoy spending hours each day writing on, a job I deeply enjoy, and an extended family that I cherish. What else do I really need?

At the same time, I make tons of little decisions each day that deny this basic fact. I spend money on stuff I don’t need. I lust after new video games when I already have many that I’ve not mastered. Often, I don’t eat nearly as well as I would like to, justifying it in various unnecessary ways.

When I reflect on those two facts, I really get unnerved. I really do have a strong grip on my financial life now, so it’s not a concern that I’m not saving enough money. It’s more a concern of am I really living my life to the fullest? When I do something dumb like eat fast food or buy a video game with a pile of unbeaten ones at home or buy a book at the bookstore when I can just request it at the library, what exactly am I doing? In some way, on some level, I’m sabotaging my future for something I don’t really need.

Well, right now I’m deeply inspired to take it head-on, so I’m going to commit to a few things for the month of November that’s going to be really challenging for me. Here they are.

First, I am going to refrain from all unnecessary spending for the entire month. If it’s not necessary, I won’t spend it, period. No fast food. No games. No books. No anything. Every time I get an urge to buy fast food, I’ll go home and prepare something there. Every time I want a video game or something for entertainment’s sake, I’ll just play something I already have. Every time I feel the urge to get a book, I’ll simply read one I already have or stop at the library. The only exception to this is if I buy a Christmas gift for someone else, or elements to make such a gift. No. Extra. Spending.

Second, I am going to take care of a list of five personal chores around the house that I have just simply been delaying for various reasons. Here they are, in all their glory:

1. I am going to clean and sort through all of my clothes, eliminate all but a minimal wardrobe, and get rid of the rest.

2. I am going to go through the remaining boxes from the move and eliminate most of the unnecessary clutter that resides in them.

3. I am going to go through the remainder of my books and reduce my personal book library, excluding books I directly use for The Simple Dollar, down to 50.

4. I am going to prepare in advance fifty family meals worth of food, which is especially vital with my wife nearing her return to work after the birth of our daughter.

5. I am going to completely clean out the remaining unsorted paperwork and integrate it into my filing system.

Note that each of these tasks will aid in my personal financial situation in some way.

Finally, I pledge to write ten truly great posts for The Simple Dollar. I tend to go through waves on here, periods where I feel like I’m posting great stuff and other periods where I don’t feel it is as good as it could be. Part of that comes down to commitments to single posts – do I put in the work to make a single post really great, or do I just post it and let it go? Most of the time, I take an idea, flesh it out in my mind, then just post it quickly and move onto the next one, but during November, I’m going to take the time to craft ten individual truly great posts. I won’t mark them, but hopefully you’ll be able to recognize them.

These are my commitments for the month, an outgrowth of reading Your Money or Your Life. Hopefully, it inspired you to make some changes as well.

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  1. Dawn says:

    I so love your your personal ambition, you seem to really work had at balancing the money/family thing. Aren’t kid’s great motivators for doing what’s right. That’s super role-modeling for us!
    I’m in a different place in life, our kid’s are in their twenties. My motivator of late was the untimely death of my mom at 58 years old. Talk about a slap in the face. It’s taught me to prioritize and cherish my true values, and that seems to be what your financial philosophy is. Love it!

  2. Monica says:

    What I am struck by most is the idea of reducing your library to 50 books! Fifty! There are so many books I love that I could not possibly narrow them down to fifty. My little theology/religion collection alone is at least 50 books. I have gotten rid of many books in the last few years, the ones I didn’t love or that I could be sure of getting hold of again if I ever changed my mind. Maybe I am too attached to my books, I don’t know.

    Otherwise I think your 5 personal chores are great, and I should do some of those sorts of things sometime soon.

  3. Kay says:

    My personal to-do list has many of the same items, but I’d be wary of taking on such a load in one month, particularly with big holidays ahead. So, I’m focusing on cleaning out my wardrobe — I have to do this anyway, to transition from warm to cold weather clothing — and continuing to stock our freezer for easy meals when I begin a large writing project in January.

  4. Amity says:

    Way to go, Trent.

    Thanks for sharing your goals.

    Can you post about frugal Christmas gift ideas? I am in no position to spend this year, but want to give gifts to people I love. One year I made whoopie pies which were a big hit and buying the ingredients in bulk was much less expensive than I thought. I packaged them in decorated paper sacks (after wrapping them in plastic wrap individually). This is my frugal tip but would love to see more. November is crunch time for Christmas.

  5. Susy says:

    Great goals. Hopefully you can accomplish them all this month. I need to add a few of those to my list. I did the book thing 2 years ago and I sold them all on Amazon. I now just get books from the library when I need them. I did the wardrobe thing as well, much easier getting ready in the morning.

    We also decided to do an entire year of not buying unnecessary stuff. This is the best item on your list! It’s amazing how this will transform your life if you stick to it. I find myself enjoying what I have much more and the “need” for new things grows fainter with each passing month of not buying “stuff”!

    Keep up the good work.

  6. !wanda says:

    I used to do an annual purge of my belongings, but I stopped when I found myself needing some of the items that I had thrown away, particularly books and clothes. Your old clothes will eventually be in style and fit your son one day (seriously, I wear my mother’s blouses from the 70’s), and it’s good for children to see lots of books around the house.

  7. Ellen says:

    The book thing sounds admirable, but be wary. I once donated a whole crate of books, and now, a year or so later, I’m reduced to tears, thinking about those old friends I callously killed, and am spending (too much) in order to get them back again.

    So. Make sure you really, really don’t want them anymore, is all I’m saying.

  8. Jamie says:

    Here are a couple of suggestions for those books that you don’t want:

    1. Sell them on eBay. I just sold a hard back of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for $5 less than I paid for it. Not a terrible “rental” fee.

    2. Donate them to your local library or some other charity. Then, you could write off the expense on your tax return.

    eBay works for old video games, too. I just sold my old 8-bit Nintendo and 3 games for $50. I’m sure you could fetch a good price on some of your newer Wii games that you don’t need anymore. Oh, and let me know when you post them. ;)

  9. Paula says:

    Trent, while your committments for November are admirable, I think you are beginning to touch the obsessive side of frugality. You said that you spend money on stuff you don’t need (although you hardly mention anything) and want video games when you haven’t finished the old ones. Perhaps you DO need the stuff. It is like being on a strict diet. If you don’t cheat once in a while, you stop dieting altogether. Part of what makes your blog so readable is that you are fallibly human and admit it. This entry gave me the idea that you are trying to become an ideal. Please don’t do that.

  10. Sarah says:

    I did this work a couple of years ago and highly recommend it. Be aware though, that you are creating a hole in your life (currently occupied by crap), and something will come fill it. Spend some time thinking about something creatively fulfilling that you’ve never given yourself permission to have before – if you do this homework, it may fall in your lap, with tremendous results.

  11. Sarah says:

    Oh, Walking In this World, by Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, is a great book about expanding your creative horizons.

  12. Sm4k says:

    Being a heavy gamer turning my financial situation around, one of the things that has helped me the most is Kongregate.com. It’s a flash gaming web site, but has a system of badges (similar to xbox live achievements) and is community-driven. There is a near constant stream of new games and badges to earn, plus it’s free, and a lot of the games are engaging enough to last 20 or 30 minutes.

    It’s no Wii, but it’s certainly helped me stave off video game boredom multiple times.

  13. dawn f says:

    With regards to your five goals for the month & having a young one (2) in the house might I suggest that you not get rid of all of the boxes? I know my older ones always had fun for several weeks building forts, castles, cars, boats etc from a few boxes taped together. Or just keep a few collapsed in the basement/garage for those up coming winter months.
    As for Wii games we borrow ours from the local library mostly.
    I too would love more frugal christmas tips etc.

  14. Debbie M says:

    Wow, that looks really hard. The one good thing is that not spending unnecessary money might give you a little extra time for your other six goals.

    One way to be careful in purging is to box things up and store them out of the way for a bit before you get rid of them for good, just to make sure. I’ve done this a few times and have only had to rescue one shirt; this made me feel better about erring toward getting rid of too many things, too.

    Ellen, let me recommend addall.com for rejoining with your friends. They search a bunch of websites to find the cheapest overall price (including shipping). I usually end up at half.com, but not always.

  15. Diane says:

    For 40 years, since a young girl, I collected books because I loved them all. They took up a tremendous amount of space. One day I realized that 99% of them were a block away at the library. Over the course of six months I gave all of them away except 6. It was unbelieveably freeing. I have made a decision to limit my personal (non clothing) belongings to only what is truly precious to me. I can’t tell you how great I feel about it!

  16. Scott says:

    You are pretty tough on yourself. I have the same struggles so I feel I can relate to your writing. A good cleaning can do wonders for the house and the soul. Keep up the wonderful work. I feel inspired to do some of the same.

  17. d.a. says:

    Holy crap, man… you’ve got such a tight schedule as it is, I’d give you a pat on the back if you just accomplished half of those goals! Good luck!

  18. Michael says:

    So, this is one?

  19. Mary McK. says:

    I want to live with Diane!!! Instead I live with 3 packrats. Sigh! But, I do love them and am not yet 100% sure I would love Diane, so I guess I’ll stay put for now ;)

    Trent, can you post about your 50 meals?

    Planning meals ahead of time is something I need to work on. I recently asked myself if I was ready to be extremely successful in my business. Success has been coming, and increasing, but slowly. In order to be ready for tremendous success one needs to be organised, and meal-planning is part of that (I’m not planning on hiring a cook when I become a millionaire) so I’m looking forward to seeing what you do!

  20. Jen says:

    I am astounded not only by your productivity but by your ambitions. Do you ever sleep? :-)

  21. MegB says:

    I hauled my books around from apartment to apartment when I was in my 20s. Finally, one day I realized that I had no intention of re-reading them, so why was I keeping them? I kept my hardbacks to use as decorative items in my home, and I sold the rest of my used paperbacks to Half Price Books for a tidy sum. Now, I’m working my way through the many books that I accumulated over the years but never read. As I finish those, I sell them back, too. It’s very freeing, and my husband loves the fact that we are “de-cluttering” the house.

  22. Beth says:

    I have one tall bookcase that holds most of my books – it’s 6 feet tall and two feet wide, so that’s a goodly number. However I’m starting to cram books in sideways on top of the standing-up books, and I know it’s time to weed the collection again. I’m going to get rid of the reference-type books I don’t use (mostly word origin things, not my trusty dictionary and atlas), and will also be pretty ruthless with my cookbooks. It’ll feel good to have them all nice and tidy again.. though there WILL be a “read one day” and “re-read one day” section :)

  23. Heidi says:

    I think that this is a great idea! I have recently begun decluttering my house and am in the process of throwing away or donating anything we haven’t used since we moved there in March 2006. I have completed three rooms and I swear, the house is happier and I feel physically lighter. I don’t take a lot of stock in feng shui, but I do know that decluttering and downsizing has given our home a much more positive “energy”. I think that you find that as you move through one area you will build momentum and want to tackle others. Good luck!

  24. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “So, this is one?”

    Nope. I have a few really great ideas that are going to take some serious time to make them happen. But I think they’ll be worth it!

  25. Tiffany says:

    I don’t think this is obsessive at all :) To have a month of no-spending can be eye opening for anyone!

  26. Kat says:

    While I love books. Love them, I only keep design books in my house. Our library doesn’t have 99% of the ones I have. Neither do bookstores. But I use them all the time for work. Those I will gladly move around with.

    Good luck on your goals!

  27. Matt says:

    It feels really great to just simplify. Over the past two months (the amount of time I’ve really gotten in to blogging) I’ve managed to completely get my house organized and really clean up everything. I’ve sold and donated tons of old junk like video games, books, movies, clothes and various other things. I’ve started eating healthier and exercising. Let me tell you, it feels so great. I’m saving money better than I ever had and I am so much less stressed than I can ever remember being. It is such a great feeling. Great post.

  28. RNA says:

    Sounds as though you are going to be the “No Impact Man” of the midwest. A noble endeavor.

    Just an observation, but you sound a little bored, having mastered your own personal finances and launched a successful blog. Why not grad school? You certainly have enough extra energy to take that on in the evenings, and your reading list has become more ambitious over time. I think you may need an intellectual challenge, and undertaking something like a financial engineering program would certainly fit the bill.

  29. sfordinarygirl says:

    Your posts are really inspiring and have me reexamining my own financial habits and spending. I really admire your ongoing effort and commitment to improve and find ways to cut down on the spending.

  30. W says:

    Just remember, Trent, that the greatness that is happening in your life is all given to you by our loving Lord. Praising him for these things in your life helps out tremendously because it makes you realize that He is the one in charge of it all. If we all truly had faith, we’d realize this. God is all that is good in this world. He’s there when bad times happen too, but God does not cause what the devil tries to destroy – nor does he necessarily stop it. I’m glad God has blessed you.

  31. Ms. Maris Deneke says:

    Have been reading your entries for only a couple of months. Your gifts for writing well are obvious…no wonder you wanted to be an English major. I did in October what you plan to do in November as far as spending. It wasn’t very difficult and as I kept asking myself, “Do I need????” I often looked around at what I have with more and more gratitude. Just remember to allow yourself to be human also…I was really looking forward to Nov. 1st and did get something I wanted!! It felt spectacular!!

  32. I’ve done the no unnecessary spending for a month experiment in the past and found it really helpful. As Sarah pointed out, it will create some holes in your life. But Trent, it seems like you’re well on your way to a good experience because you’re doing all of these things out of a place of gratitude for what you already have. Best to you.

  33. DivaJean says:

    In my small home, weeding out is a never ending process. We are two moms with 4 kids (ages 8, 5, 2, and 5 months)– saving and determining value of saving versus getting rid of and maybe needing to get back is the equation we constantly work thru.

    Some things, especially baby items and clothes, we just let flow in and out of our life. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that we have a network of famillies that we rotate clothes with– the main rule is to never sell clothes to get rid of them– they could be donated to charity if no longer needed by anyone in the group. All the baby accoutrements- swings, tubs, chairs, saucers, highchairs, etc. have rotated similarly. Thankfully, we have not had conflicting needs in our crew- or have been able to get stuff like this thru Freecycle.

    Books are tougher. The kidlets are spaced just to where their reading needs are all different right now- chapter books, easy readers, read alouds and board books, and the baby might chew on a cloth facsimile of a book. We have A LOT- but visualize the need to just keep it as is. Library lending has not worked well for us- things are too crazy for us to keep a good eye on borrowed books– and it seems we always end up paying a ton in overdues or costs of the book to the library. It is far cheaper to buy when found at garage sales or thrift shopping (10 to 25 cents/kid book usually) than to pay the fines we incur. Yeah, I know we should get more responsible about that- but we’re just stressed out enough—

  34. Andre Kibbe says:

    One technique that’s helped me with book purging is looking up the titles on my library’s website. Just knowing that I can access a particular book makes it much easier to eliminate.

  35. Dana says:

    One specific challenge I’ve used at home to curb unnecessary spending is to do a “cleanout” month. We commit to using up something completely (usually everything in our pantry) before buying more.

    Currently I’m doing this with health and beauty samples. I haven’t bought any toiletries except dental floss in almost a year, and I still have a drawer packed with goodies.

  36. Carrie says:

    Going a month without buying anything extra isn’t hard for me. I just don’t feel like I need anything. Last month all I spent was $8 on a used copy of “Your Money or Your Life.”

  37. Sandy says:

    Like you, I’m really making the effort to curtail my overspending. I remind myself that my ultimate goal of being debt-free, and staying there, is much more rewarding than the feeling I get when I make a purchase. And I read somewhere that “people have this idea that if they surround themselves with shiny new glitzy things, that’s success. But it’s not. It’s stealing from your retirement, from your family, from whatever dream you have.” Another quote I have that keeps me in check is “We’re spending tomorrow’s money when we put things on a credit card. You keep locking yourself up and losing your freedom. Bottom line on financial health: Stop spending”

  38. KarenFLA says:

    My nephew found he was spending a lot of money on video games and once he mastered them, he didn’t want them anymore. Now he rents them or trades with friends.

  39. Danielle says:

    I highly recommend the crockpot for parts of your 50 meals. I could probably have my own blog just talking about what I do with my 6 qt. crock and how well it feeld my family. Anyway, making meals, freezing them, then rejuvenating them in the crock is a great way to go.

  40. Suzy says:

    Flylady.net is a great website for home organization, cleaning, and decluttering. It may be a little too touchy-feely for this crew, but she gives sage advice in manageable bits.
    And be careful, Trent. You are quite ambitious with your to-do list, but that is a sure way to flame out fast. Slow and steady, dude. Slow and steady.

  41. Kate says:

    My husband and I went to the mall yesterday with the express purpose of buying a pretzel and finding “something” to buy for each other. We hadn’t gone shopping at the mall in such a long time, the prospect of just buying some random thing sounded fun.

    We couldn’t do it. I realized how much I didn’t need more “stuff” somewhere in the middle of a commissioned Radio Shack employee’s sales pitch about how my husband should buy me an iPod. A $200 item like that shouldn’t be an impulse purchase!

    We ended up getting a great walk in, checking out the holiday displays (already!) and really enjoying our pretzels for dinner.

  42. crazyliblady says:

    I think your goals are really awesome. I admire anyone who has the courage to take on such a project. I would personally be a little more gradual about the approach. I think I would personally focus on some simplification and getting rid of debt, at whatever pace is doable for you. If you sell anything like video games or something, consider using the money you get to make an extra debt payment or put it into a savings account for emergencies. With a new baby in the house, there are bound to be a few surprises, financially and otherwise. You should be prepared for them. As far as getting rid of books, if you don’t wish to sell them, join freecycle or find a book exchange website and exchange them for something you need or want.

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