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Dry January Challenge Recap

I would love to know if you took my dry January challenge. Please let me know if you did and how it went for you. My pants are, unfortunately, not looser as I had hoped, but that is my fault. My bank account is not fatter, as I had expected, but that is due to more home repairs, not overspending. Overall, I am glad I did it; I didn't feel deprived and learned a few things along the way.

The dry January challenge was about only buying what I needed and not what I wanted. I had to be honest with myself about what my needs were. The grocery purchases were easy, and I enjoyed cooking with what I already had in my pantry and freezer. In that regard, my greatest enemy is my crazy schedule. I must be so deliberate with my meal planning to be successful. I created wholesome meals, and my family was happy with what I made for them. Of course, I still had to grocery shop, but only for a few things. I had a difficult time not drinking wine or making a cocktail on weeknights. I enjoy a glass of wine while cooking or a cocktail when winding down. But I saved quite a bit of money by not spending on alcohol this month.

Like everyone, if I want something enough, I can convince myself that I need it. A low point during this challenge was a sample sale from an online clothing retailer. I filled my cart with dresses, trying to convince myself that I needed them for work, but let's be honest, I am always business on the top and barn clothes on the bottom for my Zoom meetings. I will never need the dress. When I realized what I was doing, I shut my browser. And I didn't look back. Now that the month is over, and so is the sample sale, I have no regrets.

This past month has made me reflect even more on my spending and if I have been a good steward of God's provision in my family's life. While I work hard on obedience, I tend to be restrictive in spending in some areas and then ridiculously wasteful in others, which, if I am honest with myself, is usually the result of putting off a purchase that is necessary because I am afraid of the expense, or from the lack of planning on my part. I have got to stop the self-sabotage. My will is strong, which can be both good and bad.

My husband and I max out our retirement and HSA account annually and tithe 10% of our income to our church yearly. Both of those line items come off the top and are non-negotiables, and that has never been the issue; giving to my church and God while saving for retirement and our family's future are our top financial priorities. And my family and I believe that if we are faithful tithers, as God has instructed, He will provide for our needs.

The hard part for me is avoiding irresponsible spending disguised as meeting a financial need. I need to work on how to manage the rest of our income. We work to save diligently for vacation and unexpected expenses like home repairs or unexpected medical bills and have an extra "sinking fund" outside our emergency fund. In a perfect world, my home never needs repairs, my AC will run perfectly forever, and my kids will never have cavities. That never happens, and usually, I will be on a roll, doing an excellent job saving for a family vacation, then have a gigantic home repair that I never saw coming. I am hemorrhaging money with four college-aged children, two in college and one about to start. There is barely any wiggle room in my existing budget. Therefore, I will have to be diligent to succeed in this area. Those who know me know that I am thrifty, but that doesn't seem to be cutting it.

I will never forget a sermon that Father Tom, the Priest at our church, gave several years ago. It was about God's provision in our lives and being good stewards, but it was also about materialism, waste, and frivolity. Not judge-y, just genuine. He ended his talk by saying, "Live simply, so others can simply live." From that, I learned I should never waste God's gifts in my life and work to be conscious of the "by-product" of living my life. Those words slightly shifted my thinking. I began working harder to eat the leftovers, not leave a drop of toothpaste in the tube, and recycle the plastic containers. I adjusted to being more efficient with my time and combining errands to save gas. I have discovered that those tiny incremental shifts resulted in a sizeable change in my life and my outlook over time, and knowing I am making those efforts to live more simply adds peace to my life. This past month was a reminder that these tiny, incremental shifts make a difference.

The Christmas season is always excessively indulgent, even though it is a precious time with the people I love. However, I do sometimes feel a dull ickiness because of the excess. I felt much more peace during this exercise than when I challenged myself last January. It felt good to reset and practice self-control. I want that feeling to carry through into the rest of this year. So, from now on, I will be very deliberate about several things regarding my spending. I am only going to buy more meat once my freezer is empty. I will schedule my menu planning as I do my online grocery order. I will grocery shop once a week. I will also only buy what I need for my house. However, I will purchase items for my home that will simplify my life and help save me money in the long term. For example, for over a year, I have wanted to purchase a step ladder that will allow me to change my air conditioner filters and smoke alarm batteries instead of waiting for my husband to get home to do it for me. I have been holding off on the purchase because the ladder that is tall enough is over $100. That is ridiculous. Why am I obsessively putting off an investment that will make my life much easier? Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy.

I also plan on enjoying the things I already have by shopping in my closet as much as possible and only buying clothing or shoes that "update" old outfits. Sometimes purchasing a more current pair of shoes or a small accessory will completely update your look. I can afford that! I took my advice and unsubscribed from every retail site I fall for. As I explained, coupons are my kryptonite. No more! If I need an item, I will seek it out and use the Honey browser extension for a coupon search. If you have yet to download that one, you are missing out! Another area I am going to try to relax and loosen the purse strings on is spending money on experiences. I will not turn down spending time with family and friends because I am unrealistically concerned about the expense. If I cannot afford it, I will, of course, not do it. If I can afford it and it will enrich my life or the lives of my family, even if it sets us back a little, I will force myself to relax, spend the money, and enjoy the experience. Previously I would have declined because I would have quickly calculated the amount this expense would take away from the other line item I was working towards and just missed out. The experiences and time spent with the people I love the most are the most essential things our hard-earned money could ever buy.

Over the last month, I realized that this "dry January" experience could be daunting, but being aware of my spending and financial needs, I gained more confidence in my ability to save more and spend less. I needed the restart to get on track for the year ahead. I will have an honest conversation about what is a need before purchasing while giving myself some grace to enjoy my blessings. The one significant outcome I gained was that I need to remind myself more regularly that God's provision in my life is a gift. I am grateful for His blessings and plan to honor Him by being generous to others and enjoying the beautiful experiences that come from His presence in my life.

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