School starts in a little over a week and I have had so many feelings about it, but at the very least I am planning on going into my senior year more prepared than I have ever been. This upcoming year will be very different for various reasons, the main one being that this is my first year living off-campus. I am a little nervous, but I am determined to make this year my most organized yet.
1) I am setting alarms for absolutely everything
I have had my fair share of run-ins with disastrous memory flaws– forgetting appointments, getting yelled at by my freshman year English professor for going to the wrong building for a conference… and every time a tiny chunk of my self-esteem fades away. It is so discouraging because I try to be reliable, but I just cannot adapt to changes in my regular routine; if I do not put something in my phone calendar or set an alarm, I will forget. So this year, I am trying to get into the habit of setting alarms as soon as I commit to something. I will no longer tell myself that I will remember, because I will not.
2) I started keeping a financial journal
I have been keeping a private journal since 2010, which has been nice for writing poetry and venting all my personal feelings. But now that I am becoming increasingly independent from my parents (although I do still receive military benefits, so I recognize my privilege), I am realizing that I need to keep track of where my money is going. How much of my paycheck is going towards groceries? Gas? How much am I spending on luxuries?
Each entry consists of a list of items I purchased that day and then a total of what I spent. Then, if I go over the budget, I have to justify those purchases in a paragraph. The idea of this is not to punish myself for going over– because with a weekly budget of $50 for gas and groceries, it happens– but rather to be mindful of what I am buying. Did I go over budget because I was buying a birthday gift for someone? That’s easy to justify. Did I go over because I was really in the mood for shawarma or bubble tea? Not as easy to justify, but I have to make a case for it anyway. By keeping track of this, I am teaching myself to prioritize.
3) I am doing research on the corporations I make purchases from
We all know that Chick-Fil-A is known for its anti-LGBT stance and sponsoring of the Trump campaign, but did you know that it is not the most conservative restaurant out there? Not by a long shot? Only about 81% of their senior employees donate to the Republican party. However, Buffalo Wild Wings, Wendy’s, Jimmy John’s, KFC, and Taco Bell all donate more.
Am I going to use this information to justify going there and buying a spicy chicken sandwich SLATHERED in Chick-Fil-A sauce, with fries dipped in Polynesian sauce, and a lemonade with no ice? I plea no contest.
My point is: know where your money is going. Now that I know that my money is going towards a cause that I am absolutely disgusted by, I am no longer tormented by late-night Taco Bell cravings or dreams of the 4-for-4. I am motivated to cook my own food.
4) I am supporting local businesses
Corporations, liberal or conservative, really can’t be trusted. Many of them don’t even pay their employees well or allow them to take bathroom breaks when they want to. I hate supporting this culture, so I’ve started to support my local small businesses.
This summer, my favorite places in Dayton that I visited were Taste of Jerusalem (Israeli-Palestinian cuisine), Wat da Pho (Vietnamese), and Pepe’s (Mexican). Every time I go to these restaurants, I feel like I am truly supporting the culture, and the staff members are always so kind to me. That is where I want my money to go.
Of course, small businesses tend to be more expensive. Therefore, I try to stretch my materials at home as far as I can before I go shopping or go out to eat, so that when I do finally go somewhere, it truly feels like a treat and I don’t have to cringe when the cashier swipes my card.
5) I cook food that I genuinely like
So many people waste their money eating out because they don’t know how to cook. Well, of course you’re going to be tempted to get McDonald’s again when all you know how to make is grilled cheese!
Buy yourself a college student cookbook and learn how to make meals that taste like they were made by your mom. Even grilled cheese slaps when you throw in some broccoli and spinach.
6) I don’t purchase raw meat
I will admit that my initial motivation was not financial at all– I just really hate the texture of raw meat. I just can’t touch it. To quote Bob Parr from the classic film The Incredibles (2004), “I can’t do it. I’m not… strong enough.”
But anyway, since adopting an almost-vegetarian lifestyle (I still order foods from restaurants that contain meat; I just don’t make it myself) I have saved some money, I guess. And my intestines love me.
7) I rarely drink soda and alcohol
In fact, I don’t even really like soda anymore. Now– and I know I’m about to sound real white– it’s almost too painful for me. Like worse than hot sauce. It’s like when you’re eating spicy food at a restaurant or friend’s house and the food is kinda spicy, but as a person of color you feel the need to prove that you have a high tolerance for spicy food when really you’re about to cry? So you sip on your water to hide that you wanna cough? That’s me drinking McDonald’s Sprite.
I also don’t really drink alcohol because it hurts my stomach and I just don’t really get much enjoyment out of it (mostly because of how expensive drinking can get). But make no mistake– I’ve been planning my twenty-first birthday weekend for months. And then, Mom, I promise: I’m never drinking again.
8) I have been preserving food like crazy
You know those women who reach their third trimester of pregnancy and start making freezer meals for everything? That’s me. Not the pregnant part (thank the Lord), but I have spent my entire summer stocking my fridge and freezer with pickled vegetables, frozen bananas, fruit jams, sauces, flavored butters, infused oils… the more I have ready, the less of a chore cooking feels like, and the more I can just relax or work on homework while my food cooks rather than chopping vegetables before it even goes into the pot.
9) I am learning to pack fun lunches
I started packing lunches for classes last semester because I had a very limited meal plan, and I wanted to stop getting Chili’s and/or bubble tea every day. But guess what I did anyway.
The lunches I packed were far too small for an adult, and often the meals were bland and uninteresting. Some were just plain weird. But now I have a better system in place, which includes a daily parfait with lavender petals sprinkled on top, a piece of bread with a different jam spread every day, vegetables with dipping sauce, baby food (… leave me alone), and tea with coconut gel.
Not only do my lunches taste good, but they are healthy, they are cute, and they are enough for a grown (growing?) girl. No more mid-day munchies.
10) I plan to study and practice during the day
This semester, despite taking 18 credit hours, will be one of my easiest. It’s only seven classes, and I have huge chunks in my day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. During this time, I want to get most of my homework and practicing out of the way so that when I get home after work, I can allow my home environment to be one of relaxation and unwinding.
11) I have a prayer journal
Have you ever been asked to pray for someone, to which you replied, “of course!” and then days later realized that you forgot to pray?
Now, I keep a list (it’s actually in my finance journal entries tbh because I didn’t want to make another journal… I already keep three) of people to pray for that day. And so I can’t forget; every time I log my finances I see people who need prayer.
12) Embracing the power of ‘yes’ and accepting the necessity of ‘no’
This doesn’t need much explaining. I am working to allow myself to have fun but to know where to draw the line. Put simply, I will say ‘yes’ to what I don’t have a good reason to say ‘no’ to, but not at the expense of my physical or mental health.
What lifestyle changes are you making this year? I would love to learn about it in the comments!