by Elise Nussbaum
A year or two ago, I tried to start my own water-conserving, planet-saving initiative — something akin to Meatless Monday. I called it “Dirty Thursday,” and urged my friends to forgo bathing one day a week. The plan was met with an enthusiastic chorus of disgust and disapproval, including a particular request that I not engage in it myself. However, my zeal for introducing calendar-based initiatives to the world has not waned, and so I present to you: Frugal February, which I have now started for the seventh year.
I tend to think of myself as a relatively frugal person, though some might disagree. My boss is shocked that I haven’t bought a new coat or purse in the six and a half years I’ve been at my job. My husband is shocked that I will happily spend $170 to attend the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (Totally worth it — I got my picture taken with Will Shortz one year!). However, the months leading up to February featured unavoidably spendy circumstances:
October: Halloween. The regular rules are suspended on Halloween anyway — once you’ve committed to dressing like a corpse and draping the apartment in cobwebs, buying skull-shaped cupcake molds is really no big deal.
November: Thanksgiving travel. And if you’re not traveling, you might be cooking, which can be just as expensive.
December: X-Mas shopping (which includes shopping of the “one for you, one for me” variety).
January: My husband’s birthday. (This bit is only unavoidably spendy for me; he’d really prefer that you not get him anything.)
An instant-gratification spending pattern is very easy to fall into, especially as the short days stretch gray from dawn till dusk, and lunch at Chipotle begins to feel like something you’ve earned just for making it until one o’clock, instead of an indulgence that could have easily been obviated with a little planning. So I pick February to be extra-aware of my habits and my budget, with a few guidelines:
• Make lunch every day.
• Netflix, not movie theaters.
• No new books, no new music, no new clothes (and really, why bother with another sweater when dress season is right around the corner?)
• Avoid dinner out, within reason — if a friend is swinging through town and a dinner out is the only way I’ll get to see her, then dinner out it must be.
2. Who would ever pick May or June to deny themselves anything? February is universally acknowledged to be the worst month. Bears invented hibernation just to avoid February. Its big event? Valentine’s Day, designed to make everyone, single and coupled, feel completely inadequate. Even the candy is either cliché or semi-disgusting.
3. Shortest month, with shortest wait between bi-monthly paychecks.
My goal is always to make it out of Frugal February having spent under $1,500, including rent and groceries. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (depending on how many deposits I have to put down for upcoming out-of-town weddings or, um, crossword puzzle tournaments), but February is always a little reset for me: the holidays are over, and it’s time to get serious.
And then March comes, and I celebrate with an early birthday present or two. I call it: Magical March. No, Makeover March. Marabou March? I try to keep it Mindful March, sometimes it slides into Megalomaniacal March, or Monkeyshines March, but it’s never Monastic March. I’m still working on a nickname.
Elise Nussbaum lives in Jersey City with a husband and a cat.