It’s June 27th and I’m sitting in my car outside the dog sitter’s house, crying over my AAA card.
I was supposed to be 100 miles into a road trip right now. Instead, I’m waiting for the tow truck – again – and realizing that it will cost me $1,200 to rent a car for two weeks over the July 4th holiday.
I guess I’m not taking a road trip. I guess I’m buying another car.
And that, my friends, is how I found myself doing a five-week Spending Diet + Earning Spree!
“What’s a Spending Diet? What’s an Earning Spree? Why were you trying to take a 2003 Ford Focus on a 1,200 mile road trip, Sarah?”
Thank you for asking, friend!
1. A Spending Diet is when you put yourself on a tight budget for a specific amount of time in order to reach a specific financial goal.
2. An Earning Spree is when you get very creative and tenacious about finding ways to bring in extra money in order to reach a specific financial goal.
3. MY MECHANIC TOLD ME IT WAS FINE OKAY.
I’ve been doing Spending Diets for years (re: most of my time in graduate school) but this was the first time I’d paired it with an Earning Spree. Here’s what I learned!
8 Things I Learned From Doing A 5-Week Spending Diet + Earning Spree
The music at First Avenue is eardrum-ruining loud and – like an idiot – I’ve forgotten ear plugs. After a few songs I can’t enjoy because I’m certain I’m going deaf, I push my way towards the bathroom. I’m convinced I can fashion makeshift ear protection from tiny, wadded up pieces of toilet paper.
And it is there, in the bathroom stall at a music venue, that I see a quote that changes the way the way I navigate my professional and creative life:
I ignore the profanities and graffiti surrounding this gem and stumble back into the music, thinking about this. If I am what I do every day, what things should I be doing every day? What kind of life do I want and what can I do every day to help me get there?
I thought about this, friends. I thought about it for the rest of the concert. I thought about it as I drove home. I thought about it as I lay in bed, squinting at the ceiling.
And then I slowly and systematically started to create habits that support theprofessional and creative life I want.
“Dude, I dunno. I don’t think you’re going to like having a CSA,” my friend intones, leveling her eyes at me over the top of her drink. She picks at her appetizer while making that I’m-telling-you-this-for-your-own-good face. “It’s $400 for four months of vegetables you’d never choose yourself. How much kohlrabi can you possibly eat? NOBODY LIKES SWISS CHARD THAT MUCH, SARAH.”
So I’m preemptively annoyed and swiss-chard-aware when I pick up my first farm share. I squint skeptically into my box of greens and weird herbs. But instead of feeling angry about lemon balm I feel … relief. And inspiration. And a bubbling up of culinary creativity. I can sprinkle lemon balm on top of all those ripe peaches sitting on my counter! I’ve heard grilled spring onions are amazing! I have everything I need to make a frittata! And, yes, I’m even excited to find recipes that feature kohlrabi.
It’s 2004 and Chung Li, Taiwan is hot and muggy. As per the usual. I’m choosing to celebrate the weather by living in flip flops and sundresses. I’m swapping out my full-faced scooter helmet for something lighter and breezier and significantly, uh, less protective.
Meanwhile, the brakes on my scooter have been squeaking and requiring more squeezing than usual but I’m choosing to put off the repairs till my monthly paycheck comes through. My commute is short! I rarely drive faster than 15 mph! IT’S FINE.
I imagine, dear reader, you can see where this is going. Can you see me tootling along the street on my way to work, thinking about my lesson plans for the day? Can you see the black Mercedes cutting me off and me tumbling into the street in my cotton dress? Can you see the hospital and the stitches and the scar tissue? Perhaps I should have chosen a different outfit. A different helmet. To get my brakes fixed.
We’re at that point in the dinner party when we’ve moved from the dining room into the living room. Everyone’s on their third glass of wine. Shoes are off. I’ve given up trying to make my hair look decent. It’s the messy top knot part of the evening, ya know? I’m admiring my friends’ new house and expressing envy over the woodwork. “It’s crazy to think we own a house now!” the husband laughs. “Well, actually, your parents own 20% of this house,” the wife says good-naturedly. “And the bank owns the other 80%.” We all laugh a little awkwardly and the conversation moves on because OH GOD WE ALMOST TALKED ABOUT MONEY. But I want to stand up and cheer. I want to hug my friends and high five them and thank them. In the space of two sentences that wife did more for her dinner party guests than she could ever realize. In two sentences, my friend essentially said: “It’s okay if you haven’t saved up the $50,000 necessary to put a down payment on a house in Minneapolis. You’re not doing anything wrong if – between school loans, 401ks, and health insurance premiums – you haven’t been able to sock away that much money. You’re not failures. You’re not doing it wrong.” Honestly, talking about money is a gift to everyone around you. Click To Tweet
Why you should talk about money (even if it makes you uncomfortable)
It’s August 29th, 2004 and things are NOT going as planned. I wake up: zero ‘Happy Birthday!” texts. I open my email: three pieces of spam and one email from a colleague asking me to teach his Friday evening class.
I push through the glass doors of the school where I teach and my co-workers barely glance up from their grading. My work BFF pulls me aside for a quick gossip about our boss and points out I have a marker stain on my shirt. I head into my kindergarten class hoping this is some sort of elaborate ruse: A setup to lower my expectations before everyone jumps out and yells ‘Surpriiiiiise!’
Friends, there was no surprise party. My 26th birthday was commemorated with a voicemail from my parents and two belated emails from high school friends.
After I spent a few days sulking and eating my feelings, I realized there was exactly one person to blame for The Sad Birthday Debacle Of ’04.
Had I told anyone my birthday was coming up? I had not.
Had I given my roommate or my friends a head’s up that my birthday was a big deal to me and one of my love languages is ‘fuss-making’? Nope.
Had I done anything to make it easier for my friends to show me they loved me? No. If anything, I’d made it oddly hard. I’d created one of those “If you don’t know, then I’m not telling you” scenarios.
What if we made it easier for our friends and family to make us happy? What if we helped people make us happier?
Of course, a giant preamble: Really, you’re the only person who’s responsible for your happiness
In a perfect world, the people who love us add to our lives. They help us be our best selves. They’re interested in knowing what makes us happy. Once they have that information, they want to do things that will add more happiness to our lives. That said, your best friend is busy. Your partner has hobbies. Your family members have lots of things on their proverbial plates. They all love you and want you to be happy! They do not necessarily have time to make your happiness a priority in their lives! So let’s do our very best to hold two truths in our big, clever minds and hearts simultaneously: 1. People probably won’t know how to make us happy unless we tell them. 2. Even if they know how to make us happy, the people in our lives are not required to spend their time and energy making us happy every minute of every day. Yes? Yes.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about how we can help people make us happier.
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