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Wednesday 1 February 2017

Frugal February

February - a short month. 
February is here (already). For a lot of people this month is one of recovery as the elusive January paycheck has risen through the shattered pieces of your tattered budget and sprinkled it's raindrops of hope all over your monetary woes turning them into a beanstalk of surplus. Some also might say they finally got paid.

December's paycheck came before Christmas1, sometimes around the 16th, and some holiday overspending has made January an extremely long and tough month. Some people's agony is further compounded with back to school purchases for their children.

In light of this, I thought I would challenge everyone to speed up their wallet rehabilitation by committing to a Frugal February.

Quick side tangent before we begin. I was recently interviewed by Garth Bruwer of One FM for his show "A View On Money Matters". I have tweeted and sent an email to the blog's mailing list with a link to the audio. For those that missed it, you can have a listen over here.

Besides the holiday hangover, there are a number of other reasons why I chose February to be the frugal month for the year:
  • It is only 28 days long - this shorter month means your miserly ways do not need to be maintained for as long as the other months. With only 4 weeks to stick it out, you should have more chance of success.
  • Tax year end - The end of February is also the end of the Tax year. This means that any money saved by your Frugal February actions can be used to top up TFSA accounts and/or RA's and/or Section 12J investments (although if being frugal in February allows you to make a Section 12J investment it probably means you own two helicopters and buy the big tub of almonds from Woolworths every month) before the new Tax year begins. Of course if you got any nasty debt, you may also want to use the savings to kill that.
  • Everyone loves some alliteration2 and Frugal *any other month* just doesn't have the same ring to it. Also it kinda fits nicely between Miser March and Just Enough January?

The Frugal February Challenge

So what is the challenge?

The challenge is two fold:
  1. Spend less than you usually would by coming up with some unique cost saving ideas.
  2. Hopefully you will also challenge yourself to do things which are out of your comfort zone - especially those things which save money.
For example I have spoken to my wife, and here is what we will be doing:
  1. Trying to cook cheaper meals. This means meat free Mondays, and looking out for cheaper ingredients. My wife has accepted this challenge, and I am really lucky in the sense that she is simply brilliant at making the most extraordinary meals from random ingredients. This should reduce our grocery expense for the month. To challenge myself a little further, I am also going to try eat smaller portions resulting in more leftovers, which should mean fewer total meals needed for the month (a smaller dinner means leftovers for lunch the next day, yes?). Finally we have also decided to eat two really really cheap meals a week. These will most likely consist of bread and/or something canned (may not sound that appetising but then I think sweetcorn and melted cheese on toast for example and I realise it might not be that bad). I will see what inventive meals my wife can come up with....
  2.  Not buying anything new for the house. Now that we have bought our townhouse, we generally have been adding some stuff to it every month as we slowly make it our own. For the month of February we will add nothing, and invest the money instead. I know this may mean anything we were going to buy could just be deferred to March, but who knows, maybe the extra time to think will allow us to decide if what we wanted to get is really needed?
  3. Be better with Electricity. Our electricity bill has been creeping higher and higher each month - this is mostly because of Stealthy Junior. I saw an easy solution to this problem, but my wife told me in no uncertain terms that we cannot get rid of him. This was a good thing though as I am really starting to like the guy :) So I figured we would need to think of some other ways to reduce this expense, and I am thinking the easiest way is by forming good habits. These are things we should have been doing anyways, but hopefully this challenge will be a friendly reminder to be better. The usuals like switch off all lights when not in use and unplugging cellphone chargers from the wall while we not at home. Then there are also things like trying to cook less with the oven (this kinda falls in with number 1 above).
  4. Drive less. We do minimal driving as it is, but I want to push this even further by walking more to the shops, and being better in terms of grouping trips together. I want to try maximise our Car Free Days. Again our petrol bill is not that big, so won't score that much in terms of money but no harm in optimising.
  5. Take Cold Showers. Wait...what!? Have I gone nuts? This one is more about challenging norms and conventions than saving money. Hot showers are just what you do right - the way it has always been. The thing is Centurion gets really (really really) hot, so there is actually no excuse to have any warm water when showering (we swim in cold water right?) I think a warm shower is just what everyone does, so I want to challenge that thinking a little. Let's see.... My wife was not very keen on this one, so she decided she would commit to shorter showers instead...fair compromise :) 
  6. Frugal February Fines. In keeping with the f - alliteration (I suppose I could have added a nice French word too - anyone know a swear word starting with f?) my wife and I have decided to fine each other for wastefulness or bad spending. For example if someone forgets a light on - fine! If someone buys something that we don't need - fine! If someone adds a stupid sixth point to a frugal list - fine! Wait....no that's not right...ignore the last one The fine will only be R5 per offence, which is not going to break the bank, but it will serve as a nice reminder to be on our best behavior. At the end of the month, the huge amount of money collected can be used to buy a month long holiday to Thailand beer...or maybe half a beer to celebrate the end of the month.

So Much Of Coolness

Ice ice baby!
Some cool things I would like to point out:
1. The cool thing about frugal challenges is it pushes you to live a little uncomfortably and do things you wouldn't usually do.
2. The cool thing about being a human (here's hoping all the readers are in fact human!) is that we are remarkably adaptable.

And when the power of these two coolnesses (I made a word) combine, I am Captain Planet the result is that something which could very well be uncomfortable at first, becomes the norm after a while, and may eventually even become habit.

This means that even if the the cost saving ideas you try implement don't save you a tonne of money in February, you could very well end up sticking to some them forever - and this will result in you saving a decent amount of cash over the years.


If you do decide to join me and take up this challenge (I really hope you do), I would love to hear your ideas and what you will be doing to save money and challenge yourself this month. I am hoping we can maybe get some kind of annual movement going across South Africa, where people dedicate the month of February to challenging themselves to spend less and make their money go further - so tweet your cost saving challenge ideas with the hashtag #FrugalFeb and let's see if we can get this thing to take off.

Got any cost saving ideas? Share them with the hashtag #FrugalFeb and spread the word!

If you are not a Twitterer (I made another word) then please drop your ideas and thoughts into the comments below, I would love to hear them! Maybe I do a future blog post with the best cost saving tips...

Till next time, Stay Stealthy!
 - ~ - ~

1 When my paycheck arrives on 16 December, I quickly transfer it into my Access Bond and score the free interest saving until the 25th when I move it back into my account - as if it was a normal payday.

2 For those that have forgotten their high school English lessons - always appreciate astute alliteration and advance to this Wikipedia page.