This post is all about the 90 Day Frugality Challenge my fiancee and I are about to undertake. I’ll link the philosophy of Stoicism with frugality and how it is helping us on our path to financial independence. I’ll also bring up obstacles we’ll encounter during the challenge and our plan to overcome them. This post will wrap up with what excites and scares us the most about this challenge. (Maybe we’ll see another guest post from Mrs. Distilled Dollar as the challenge unfolds!)

As Q3 comes to close, I couldn’t be happier. This was, by far, the best three months of my life. I’ve reestablished my old frugal habit of reading 1 book a week, I completed my best triathlon race ever, and of course, the pinnacle moment was becoming engaged to my beautiful fiancee.

Turns out, engagements are much more expensive than I anticipated. We now need to realign our budget and our lifestyle. Our overall goal for 2016 is still to double our savings rate. As such, we’ve entered the final phase of the year: A 90 Day Frugality Challenge.

Our plan is to eliminate 100% of the unnecessary spending from our budget. The purpose is to find out how low we can make our budget while still leading a happy lifestyle.

We’ve worked hard to reduce the bulk of our large fixed expenses (e.g. housing). We’ve removed the need to have entire categories such as car ownership, which costs an average of $8,698 per year. 

With the last 90 days of 2016 in sight, we’re taking the hammer to the final categories in our budget.



We’ve succeeded in reducing our grocery budget by more than 50%, but I know we can do better. We plan to further reduce our intake of more expensive foods (primarily meats), and replace them with less expensive products such as fruits and vegetables.

Similarly, we chopped our restaurant expenses in half, but again, we can do better. I plan to not only cook inexpensive day-to-day meals, but also to occasionally find new ingredients at the store to cook up fancier meals. This means devoting more time to finding exciting recipes, rather than outsourcing that aspect of our lives.

Another cost saving opportunity is my fiancee’s phone bill. Currently, it’s costing us $80/month. I’m not as familiar with the realm of mobile service contracts, but from reading plenty of great personal finance blogs, I know there are plenty of options out there to reduce that bill by at least half.

The biggest obstacle we face in our 90 Day Frugality Challenge will be spending money while out with our friends or at holiday events.



Chicago is an expensive city and a drink will routinely cost you $10+ after tip and sales tax (10.25% here in Chicago).

With our challenge in mind, I’ve set up a few weekly events that will help us to overcome these obstacles and close out 2016 as the best financial year of our lives.

The first is a weekly game night I’ve set up to take place at our condo. We basically get together to drink beers and play board games. It is a ton of fun and the cost is 20% compared to a normal night out.

The second is continuing to have a weekly date night. Lately, we’ve been looking up free museum days and free outdoor concerts in Chicago. This has helped out our budget tremendously, since the cost of a ticket to many events can be upwards of a $100.

The last solution will be the hardest to implement: The power of “No.”

I find it is much easier to say, “No,” to someone when you have a much larger, “Yes,” that you’re working towards. In this case, the goal of doubling our savings rate is not an easy thing to say, “Yes,” to. I know this because I’ve tried and failed this year. Instead, my focus for this 90 day challenge will be to work on making Distilled Dollar as successful as it can be. This translates to working nearly every weekend (between now and 2017) on developing content, and reaching out to readers, friends, and experts in order to improve my writing, my delivery, my content, my website, etc.

I find the more I give to this site, the more I receive so I’m excited to say, “Yes”, to more work on Distilled Dollar.

The added benefit of spending more time on my site is that it’s free and it doesn’t come with a hangover the next day.

It also helps to have a vacation on the books for January of 2017. That will be our time to fully unplug and enjoy some R&R while on the beach in Hawaii. I find it is easier to work hard when you know there is a reward within sight.

 

Stoicism, pursuing the “Good Life,” and Mustering Courage

 

To compliment my challenge, my reading this quarter will focus on the philosophy of Stoicism since it goes hand in hand with frugality. We might call it a practical guide for optimizing our lifestyle. For me, that means rereading On the Shortness of Life by Seneca. You might scoff at the length being only 54 pages, but I assure you, it takes a great deal of time to read. It takes an even greater amount of time to implement.

For a quick background on Seneca and Stoicism, jump to 7:06 in this podcast from Tim Ferriss where he describes Seneca as one of the wisest and richest men in Rome. This man advised great leaders of his time, including the emperor. The podcast also mentions two other books I’ve selected to read for this 90 Day Frugality Challenge: Letters from a Stoic by Seneca and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Stoics advocate for people to engage in activities such as, “practice poverty,” so that we might eliminate our fears by experiencing them. This was a time when entertainment was ripe (although, much less available than today). Many people were trying to unveil the luxuries of their modern world and reach back to the core of what led to a good life.

As the historian Will Durant put it, “A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean.”

We model this sentiment within the framework of our lives. We want to self-impose and endure, “hardships,” and “sacrifices.” By doing this early in our lives, we are setting ourselves up to live the “good life” later.

While an internal motivator is to internalize the beliefs of stoicism, we are still made better if we utilize stoicism as a temporary vehicle toward achieving financial independence sooner in our lives. If we do decide to spend more lavishly, it will be because we built our foundation correctly in our 20’s and 30’s.

It is helpful for us to remember, humans are hyper capable of adapting to whatever environment they are placed in. One of the unique attributes we face today, uncommon with our ancestors, is our environment does not impose many dangers on us. We’ve adapted to the comforts of modern society. Negative habits are rarely seen until they’re too embedded to be overlooked. I trust the 90 Day Frugality Challenge will force us to weed out negative habits while we enjoy a more simple and happier lifestyle.

One of these days, I need to write a full post on why frugality is not a sacrifice. I don’t foresee any actual, “sacrifices,” happening during the last few months of the year. Still, sacrifice or not, this challenge will have its share of hardships.

The reason I know these changes will be hardships, is because I feel a sense of fear when I commit to this challenge.

I feel fear is a prerequisite to a great goal. A challenge needs to SCARE us in some way. If we don’t expand outside of our comfort zone and unsettle ourselves a bit, then we leave less opportunity for growth.

As Financial Samurai puts it, “if you don’t feel the pain of saving then you’re not saving enough.”



I look forward to facing some pain in the 90 Day Frugality Challenge! By resisting the pain, we expend more energy than we would if we were to simply overcome it. That might be one of the more intense edicts I have applied to my life. It comes from my triathlon training, so I’m curious if others would agree.

The other reason we know this is a challenge is because it excites us.

When we embark on accomplishing something, it needs to be exciting. If we view our goals as too small to begin with, and we don’t feel they’re worth writing down, then we’re as good as a one-legged-man in an ass kicking contest.

As the Chicago Architect Daniel Burnham sums it up, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”



What are your big plans before the end of this year? Have you taken a no-spend or frugality challenge before?

-Matt

Master Distiller

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