Goblin Hoard Report Card – February 2015

This month and the next couple months have me way out of my comfort zone, I’ll be honest. I can write all I want about how the math works, but altering our food purchasing to large up-front buy-ins like CSAs, bulk dry goods, etc. has me very uncomfortable on a gut level. I expect comfort will come with time, but 2015 is going to be an interesting roller coaster ride as far as emotional reactions to money.

YNAB, my newest tool, helps but I still think we’re probably going to overspend a bit this year. But it’s impossible to know right now.

Budget Report for February 2015

Income (combined after all deductions): $3,876

Fixed Spending

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $723.99
  • Auto Insurance: $56.05
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $59
  • Netflix: $9.49
  • Amazon Prime: $8.42

Variable Spending

  • Extra debt payment: $500
  • Fuel: 95.28
  • Gas/Electric: $183.77
  • Health Expenses: $94.12
    • Maintenance: $94.12
    • Sickness: $0
  • Water: $0
  • AirVoice cell: $0
    • Current monthly average: $11

Sink Funds Spending

  • Food Master category: $1,627
    • Large Up-front buy-ins: $858 –> CSA share, plus extra winter storage share
    • Groceries/Necessities (detailed breakdown here): $561
      • Fruit: $65
      • Vegetable: $49
      • Nuts: $59
      • Baking: $51
      • Dairy: $98 –> A bit high for my liking, but the quality/sustainability is arguably worth it.
      • Eggs: $30
      • Meat: $110 –> Mostly meat that was not eaten this month.
      • Fats: $18
      • Prepared Foods (includes pasta): $0 –> YES!!!!!
      • Non-alcoholic beverages: $6
      • Alcohol: $22
      • Misc and Personal Care: $57 –> Mainly bulk spices that I can’t get via the Alchemist’s job at FoodCompany.
  • Discretionary: $0 (Forward balance: $100)
  • Garden: $41.84 (Forward balance: $50)
    • Decided to add a separate sink fund for garden purchases.
  • Transportation Capital Fund: $0 (Forward balance: $565) –>slowly saving for a new-to-us car
    • Car upgrades: $0
    • Car maintenance or repair: $0
    • Bike upgrades: $0
    • Bike maintenance: $0
  • Travel: $43 (Forward balance: $983) –>eliminated the sub-categories from last month as needlessly complicated
  • Kids/Education: $27 (Forward balance: $434) –>this is the bare minimum I want, since it covers their Sunday school fees for next school year.
  • House Capital Fund: $759 (Forward balance: $710) –>purchased a grain mill, and also made a number of other smaller purchases for projects as soon as the weather warms a tad.

February was the month I retired(ish), which has and will be a great development for our family. That said, my emotions are a mixed jumble because I’m exiting my stewardship comfort zone. Instead of being the type of frugal weirdos that eat month-to-month, participate in “eating down the pantry/freezer” challenges, we’re now the frugal homesteading weirdos where we put large quantities of food by. Basically we’re 21st century consumers trying to re-learn late 19th-century home economics practices. It’s going to be an adjustment period, perhaps a rough one, but it’s an exciting growth challenge that should save money.

I’m anticipating it won’t actually save us money in 2015, not until my stewardship gets acquainted with the new methodology, but the quality has shot way up. Spoiler: good food is good. After some inventory issues, our grain mill just arrived, so March’s first grocery trip will involve some (expensive) small bulk grain purchases from the yuppie hippie co-op to test varieties before ordering (non-expensive) large quantities (I haven’t finalized, but totalled up across grain varieties we are talking probably at least 500 pounds). After two years of reading about the taste and nutritional benefits of freshly milled whole grains, I am excited to get going.

Currently our trailing monthly average (dating back to January 2014) on all food (grocery, bulk, garden) is $640. That’s over our $600 budget but not grossly so.

Have you ever had massive paradigm shifts in the way you budget, even after making the initial spendypants to frugal weirdo transition? Were you an emotional mess while doing it, not trusting the numbers?


Altering Depression

I’ve been paying attention to my mental and physical moods lately and I’ve noticed some trends I thought I would share. I’ve written a few posts here and there mentioning depression. In general I have felt better since making the decision to quit my job, and the week-plus since actually separating from it have been good. With exceptions.

Depression is there, but I’ve noticed some three clear factors.

Tea is better than coffee (for me). Two months in a row we ran out of coffee and I didn’t want to spend the money until the budget refreshed. Both months I felt great. It was a surprisingly clear demarcation. If you’re not aware, the ‘caffeine’ in tea isn’t caffeine, but rather a caffeine-analog. (This is also true of chocolate, which has yet another different caffeine-analog). I’m guessing I uptake tea differently, in such a way that my moods stay much more stable. There are soothing compounds even in the “strongest” tea that probably also have an effect.

Overeating is terrible for my mood. In my case, it’s overeating carbs (and what other food group is possible to overeat, I mean, have you ever tried to overeat fruit, veggies, or even meat?). Some carbs are critical for me, but if they escape the rough parameters put in place by the food ziggurat I go into total sad-sack mode until my body cleans up roughly 24 hours later. Again, much like the coffee–>tea transition, the demarcation between good diet and bad diet days are really clear now that I am paying attention.

Finding the right dose. I’m on a half-dose of my SSRI now, and mental clarity is definitely up, even on “down” days. In the past, this has emboldened me to do a full taper, but I think I’m going to be wiser and stick at this level for a few months and observe before deciding to go further. Since needing to be on medication, I’ve never stayed completely off for more than about a year.

Since I’ve talked about my depression before, I thought I would share the progress. My overall wellness is definitely up this year so far, between these observations about depression, my weighlifting regimen, and the psychological burden-lifting of freeing mental space devoted to wage slavery to completely focus on stewardship and parenting.


Adjusting to YNAB

A lot of folks in the personal finance and financial independence spheres are familiar with the program You Need a Budget (abbreviated to its acronym YNAB). I’ve pooh-poohed it for over a year, trusting my pen, paper, spreadsheet system but after a commenter on this piece pointed out that the program runs almost flawlessly in a WINE bottle* I figured I might as well try it out.

30 minutes later I was hooked. 2 hours later a purchase was all but assured.

This isn’t a formal review of the software. This is basically my reaction to the software, its methodology, and how all of that makes me feel as a steward.

YNAB’s methodology breaks down into 4 Rules:

  1. Give Every Dollar a Job. Because the budget system and 3-month forward view works so well, you can budget forward much more effectively. I have very good data for the past, but counting out future cashflows – even fixed expenses – was always something my system had a very hard time doing. So I had to leave buffers all over the place to account for this haziness. I’m letting things stay a bit hazy for now, but in the future YNAB will let us be more aggressive about debt repayment and post-tax investment contributions.
  2. Save for a Rainy Day. This is something we’ve always done, but YNAB’s way of segregating funds is more elegant.
  3. Roll with the Punches. Oh yeah. We’ve done this a lot. Readers from the beginning (18 months ago!) will know how much has changed.
  4. Live on Last Month’s Income. Previously I kept a Dave Ramsay-esque $1,000 general buffer because we are in debt repayment mode, but we’re going to work up to filling a full month buffer, as it helps YNAB’s system work better. Initially I thought we had this already, but then realized I’d made an error in handling how our primary credit card was imported. We may have the buffer by April, but for sure we will have it by May of this year, and then can resume more aggressive external savings.

How do I feel?

Honestly, a bit humbled and chastened. I realize that, while I’ve made a lot of progress, there’s a lot more I can learn about future planning. Two mornings in a row I’ve woken up earlier than planned, my sub-conscious having chewed on details during the sleep, and spent my first waking minutes correcting errors and tweaking our YNAB setup.

Hubris is a nasty little bugger. I think I’ve let myself get a bit too excited about sustainability initiatives and almost dropped the ball on taking care of the core family financial health. Taking extra care is doubly important now that we are on a single income. Then again, having the mental bandwidth to focus so hard on adjusting our budget system is a possibility space created by me being home. Like all things in life, growth occurs in many directions, and from many sources.

Do you YNAB?

*For non-Linux heads, YNAB lacks a native Linux version, so to run it on Linux you have to use WINE, which is essentially a Windows emulator.


March Meetup for Milwaukee area frugal weirdos

I’ve previously organized meetups just through the MMM forums, but in case I have any readers local to Milwaukee, WI who aren’t users of the forums, I thought I should advertise the frugal weirdo meetup I have coming up. The previous gatherings have had a good mix of folks, and I seem to scare away most people from returning, so there’s new faces all the time ;)

It will be Saturday, March 7th at around 5PM. Bring something to share. I’ll make some sort of main dish (pizza, pasta, burritos).

I won’t put my exact address out in the post, but I am on the west side of Milwaukee, about 76th and Burleigh.

RSVP via email at davidhughes117 [at] gmail [dot] com and I’ll give you my address :)

Otherwise, if you ARE a user of the MMM forums, head over to this thread and RSVP there.


It all comes from the sun

Note: I originally published this in August ’14, but with all of the thinking about sustainability I’ve been doing, I wanted to push this up to the front page again for those who may have missed it before.

Imagine a family with carefully built wealth. For four generations, the adults have worked hard, carefully managed and invested, leaving the next generation with more than they started with. Somehow, the latest generation doesn’t get it. A century’s worth of wealth gets squandered in mere decades.

Would anyone look upon that last generation kindly? No? I didn’t think so. For this reason, history will judge the petroleum era harshly.

All energy comes from the sun.* What we call “fossil fuels” is merely solar energy, captured and stored over millions of years. And we’ll squander it in a few centuries. Whether peak oil has happened or is yet to come, petroleum is a finite resource.

When it is gone, will we look up to the sun, look down at the earth beneath our feet, and wonder what the hell we were doing? The last generation of our imaginary family probably had fun, but when the bender was over, what then?

Think about it.

*This ignores the notable exception of fissionable minerals mined from the soil. Though, of course, even those had to be formed in the core of a star.


New blog features

Just a quick note to draw your attention to two new pages I’ve added at the top of the blog.

The first is a list of book recommendations. The homesteading/gardening sub-section is complete to date with the books I’d truly recommend. The fiction one is no doubt missing all sorts of books I’ve read and loved, but can’t quite remember right now. I’ll be updating the list periodically. If you see books that you’ve liked that you think I would, don’t hesitate to share in the comments on that page.

The second page is a list of foods I want to recommend. Many of them are local farms or brands to my area, but a few are not. If you’re in SE Wisconsin you’ll get a lot of benefit. If not, well, food is local and you should all eat as bio-regional as possible ;)


Terroir and Humanity

This is one of several natural springs which drain together to form the Danube.

This is one of several natural springs which drain together to form the Danube.

We’re doing a history unit on the pre-Roman Celts (a bit deep for 2nd and 3rd graders, I know) and what’s struck me about them is their powerful sense of place. Few things were sacred except places. The Celts first emerged as a distinct people in the headwaters of the Danube, in what is now the Black Forest of Germany. The Danube gets its name from Danu, the mother/water goddess whose waters flowed out from within the earth in the time of primordial chaos. Her waters nourished Bile, the sacred oak, from which sprang the gods and goddesses. From Dyaus, the bright-one, sprang (they believed) the Celts themselves.

In pre-modern times, situating a house relative to water was absolutely crucial. Ben Falk has a wonderful discussion of how do analyze a site’s hydrology before building in his The Resilient Farm and Homestead. Wherever humans went, they had to keep water close to hand. The Celts took it to another level.

Because of the importance of Danu, the primary river, stream, or spring of any place had sacred power. The chief of that tribe, before ascending, had to bathe in the waters as a form of ritual marriage with the divine. They might have believed all Celts were descended from Dyaus, but for the chiefs, a special connection with the divine was required. The water of a place is what made life possible. By wedding himself to that water, the chief became wedded to the land, and thus his people.

Few Americans in modern times are wedded to the land. Not the land they currently occupy, nor even land in a vague sense. We get food from the supermarket, not from the earth. We get water from the faucet and shit back into the same water supply.* Little is sacred.

Terroir is a French term for the way the entire mini cosmos of a farm affects the way plant genetics express themselves. From temperature to rainfall to the incredible web of microscopic soil creatures – everything plays a role in how the fruit forms and tastes. Take a true seed or a cloned cutting to a new climate and the plant may end up quite different. Change the place, and you change the thing born from it.

Epigenetics is a very new field that even the most advanced current science barely understands, but it proves to be very powerful. Nutrition has a powerful role in genetic expression. Nutrition comes from the earth and the waters, from the terroir we inhabit. We must return to having a concept of place as sacred, as important, as worthy of stewardship.

How can we survive as a species if we have no stake in the web of creatures which nourish us?

*Read The Humanure Handbook if you want an excellent discussion of the insanity of water-based sewage treatment. Changing this is something I would like to work on, but the Alchemist has vetoed it to date. We’ll see where it goes :)


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