Going back in time can sometimes help us go forward.

I’ve been tidying my new place and came across an old journal from 2006 full of artsy ideas, and personal coaching tidbits that I was receiving at the time, with phrases like “it’s my free choice” and “be the change you want to see” (the latter courtesy of Oprah).

But then I was surprised to come up with an out of place mention of my budget at the time. It turns out that even after eight months of working full time, I’d not taken a bite out of my few thousand dollars of debt, amassed during a very iffy work period.

I was asking myself at the time how was I going through $1400 net while leading such a modest life. So I proceeded to list what seems now to be such a simple budget, after having dealt with the last decade of massive mortgages and a more complicated joined life.

My monthly expenses at the time: a very modest rent of $550; $40 for phone; $95 for transportation; $50 for pet care; $50 in interest; $150 on church tithing; $75 for investments; $160 on groceries; $50 for health; and last, but very much not least, good old miscellaneous that was adding up to $180, or a whole one eighth of my earnings.

Some of the categories were fully set and there was no wiggle room. Continuing to invest while carrying debt may have been questionable, but I knew that wasn’t the area that I wanted to trim back in order to increase my debt payments. And giving to church after a long stretch of not having done so felt like the right thing for me. So where could I go? Ah yes, that vague but consequential “miscellaneous”.

She’s a broad category, that’s for sure, incorporating just about everything, including the kitchen sink. And let’s not forget things like treats, gifts, toiletries, home decoration, entertainment, clothing, and so on, some of which can certainly stand on their own. The categories, not the clothing, unless you really like to save on laundry expenses.

Can you think of the categories that are vaguer than expenses like groceries and the specific automatic bill payments that come out of your account every month? If you pay mostly by debit, you can scroll through your last couple of months and jot down whatever may fall into the flexible category to get more clarity on where your funds may unnecessarily be siphoned off.

For myself, at the time, I was doing things like taking singing and guitar lessons, and spending a fair share at the local arts supply store, so I know that used up a good chunk of my miscellaneous funds. I then proceeded to decrease my lessons from weekly to every second week, and I cut down on art supply purchases, while continuing to take free courses at the arts store, and that certainly helped stretch my resources. And that year for Christmas, many loved ones received my attempts at being artsy as I had many a canvas and photograph to spare, so that helped trim the holiday expenses. I was a regular movie theatre goer at the time and so I cut back on that to prioritize my funds and instead got more entertainment from the library. Other than that, it’s so long ago that I can’t remember other specifics, beyond having gradual success at trimming my debt and interest payments, so let’s jump to today’s miscellaneous.

Some recent miscellaneous things I’ve saved on are the two pairs of jeans, in great condition, that I got from the second hand store for less than $18 for both. I got a beautiful calendar for 25% off by waiting until just after Christmas. And I’ve been decorating my place with a lot of my own photography, affordably done via Superstore online and placed in IKEA frames. I’m stretching out my treat money by, gulp, having smaller servings. I know, that’s shocking to me too. And I’ve successfully asked for a discount at the local paint supply store as I’m quite the regular there these days. It might only be 5% but it’s better than nothing, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if I hadn’t asked!

After having fallen out of the habit of shopping at the dollar store the last couple years due to slight location challenges, I’ve gotten back in the habit and am using it for some solid pantry stocking, and a range of miscellaneous items, like cotton swabs that cost a third of what they cost at the local drugstore. With a recent computer reboot, I took the advice to go for a free security system from Microsoft and am saving $50 a year. I bought two years instead of one for music membership fees, as even though it’s more up front, it’s a saving in the long run. I’m buying kids’ hot chocolates at the local coffee shop for $1.50 instead of getting the adult, and overly hot, hot chocolate for $4.

As I have to go the laundromat these days (definitely going back in time and feeling like a twenty year old again!), I’m minimizing those visits by doing some handwashing and air drying and wearing my new jeans a lot before they get washed (but before they can stand alone). And using my healthy homemade detergent that costs about thirty cents per load vs. buying the one dollar boxes from the coin machine.

I got a couple of gifts at a store that was liquidating and spent $4 instead of $15. I recently met a friend at a local restaurant during happy hour and spent half price on appetizers. I’ve upcycled instead of tossing a couple of items to use them as artsy but practical ways to hang items and make use of every square inch in my small home. After running out of a toiletry product, I made my own using Epsom salts, tea tree and lavender essential oils. And so on.

My goodness, little miss “miscellaneous”. You are quite complex and intricate. But very flexible, thankfully, providing endless opportunities to trim our expenses. I appreciate being reminded how easily my funds were eaten up, those eleven years ago, and being more thoughtful of making vague expenses more concrete and controlled.

Ultimately, this category is all about free choice, and making minor modifications for long term gain as we head into the future, saving a bit of extra change… and being the change we want to see.

By the way, books three and four in my six part series mention many ways to save on things like toiletries, gifts, entertainment, and clothing (available at www.amazon.com/Rachel-Albang/e/B015OWCGCI).

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