Friday, July 31, 2015

The Weekly Hiss and Purr - July 31 Version

Mrs. Frugalwoods, of my new favourite blog Frugalwoods, writes a semi-regular column entitled the Weekly Woot & Grumble, in which she talks about one good thing (a woot) and one bad thing (a grumble) from the previous week.  Because I love stealing other people's ideas needed inspiration for today's blog post have enjoyed reading these posts, I thought I'd give my own Weekly Woot & Grumble post a try.

Given that I'm a cat lady lover, I decided to go for a more feline-themed title, hence the Weekly Hiss and Purr.  (Callie and Hobbes approve.  Or maybe they're just embarrassed to have been caught in such a compromising position.)

The Hiss - Paperwork:

Being on vacation, I really don't have much to complain about.  Should I whine about the difficulty of fitting reading, tv watching, and knitting all into one day?  About having trouble falling asleep at night because I slept in until 10 am?  About my Mom not answering her phone when I'm calling to make plans for a picnic?  I'm sure that all of these things would garner tremendous sympathy.

Really, the only thing causing me any significant distress this week (other than bloody, itchy, wake-me-up-in-the-middle of the night mosquito bites) is all of the paperwork and other details that need to be sorted out before I go back to work.  College registration, malpractice insurance, automatic deposit, new pager, new dictaphone, new identification badge, etc. etc.  It seems like every time I open my email there is another request for me to fill out a form (and usually provide a cheque or credit card number).  The worst part is, no task can ever be completed in a single step.  A request for a cheque reveals that I've run out of cheques, which requires me to open my online banking, which reveals that my online banking address is incorrect, which requires me to email my banker, which reminds her that she has ten things she wants me to do for my new business account, which causes me to bang my head against the wall in frustration while letting out a guttural moan.

Really world, all I want to do is binge watch Arrested Development on Netflix while finishing off the sock I started knitting in February.  Is that too much to ask?

(Yes sock, not socks.  I've only knit one in six months.  Based on the number of times I've sworn at said sock, I may never knit a partner for it.)

The Purr - Organization:

As I've previously mentioned, I forced myself to spend the first week or so of my vacation getting my apartment organized.  Papers from medical school were recycled; ill-fitting clothing was packed up for the thrift store; and similar items were gathered from across the apartment into single locations (Me to girlfriend:  Six boxes of lard?  Why do we need six boxes of lard?  No, I'm not throwing them out.  I'll put them next to the twelve bags of raisins.).

It was a huge amount of work, and I frequently resented it during the process, but I am so glad that I did it.  Multiple times every day I look around the apartment and am amazed by the amount of empty space I can see.  I can find things easily.  I can cook in my kitchen without first having to clear counter space for myself.  It seems like such a small thing, but it fills me with joy on a regular basis.

Now the challenge is to maintain some semblance of organization once I start working again...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What I Have Learned About Money - Part Two

Continuing on from yesterday, here are two more things that I've learned over the past ten months.

Money can buy freedom:

When looking towards my future, I had always just assumed that I would follow the traditional path of working until I'm 65.  It didn't occur to me that there was any other option.  But then I started reading the frugal blogs, and I realized that there is a whole group of people out there who are saving enough money to retire much earlier, often in their 30s.  And while the really early retirement boat has clearly sailed in my case (I'm 38), it is encouraging to think that I could reach the point where I'd be able to retire well before the age of 65.

Not that I necessarily would.  I like my work, and I get a lot of my meaning in life from helping other people, so I don't feel any urgency to get out of the working world.  But it would be nice to have that option, in case my feelings about my job change in the future or (god forbid) I become unable to work before I'm 65.

Even now, I can see ways in which having money and living frugally increase my choice and satisfaction related to my job (and therefore my life as a whole).  Part of my new position, which starts in mid-August, will be to work at an inner city clinic treating residents of the area.  When this job opportunity became available, I was ecstatic, because I've spent a lot of time working in that clinic, and I think the work they do is incredible.  I want to be a part of that clinic.  But when I discussed the job opportunity with other attendings, many of them pointed out that I would make less money there than at a more conventional clinic.  Some even suggested that I turn the position down.

Which is ridiculous.  I've worked hard for 16 years in order to do work that I enjoy and that fulfills me, not to suck every penny I can out of the medical system.  Living below my means lets me make that choice.

Sometimes it is still better to spend money than to save it:

NOLA commented on my previous post that she has "always been frugal but willing to splurge".  After all of my talk about the benefits of being frugal, I think it's important to point out that I'm the same way; I still spend (probably way too much) money on things that are not absolutely necessary but that make my life better.  I still get my apartment cleaned every week, even though it's the largest single variable expense in my budget, because without it I would live in squalor.  I recently bought a new storage unit and ottoman to hide organize the clutter essential items that I couldn't get rid of in my recent apartment purge.  My second largest variable expense in my budget is still eating out, because it's the easiest way of getting together with my friends, and I value my relationships with them more than most other things.

For me, living frugally isn't about constantly saying no to myself or living a life of deprivation.  It's really about being conscious of my spending and eliminating unnecessary things (like bland cafeteria food) so that I can become more financially secure and create more choice for myself.  Because I never want to turn down a job that I love just so that I can make a few more dollars.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Have Learned About Money - Part One

As the completion of my training approached, I noticed that people began asking me a lot of the same questions.

"Are you going to buy a house?"  
"Are you going to buy a new car?" 
"Where are you going to travel during your vacation?"
"How are you going to reward yourself for finishing?"

The message being that, now that I'm a "real" doctor, I can (should?) start spending like one.  Looking at my Facebook feed over the past few years, it's obvious that many of my classmates have taken that approach since completing residency, as they've posted pictures of giant new homes and fancy cars and trips to exotic locations (usually complete with shopping at designer boutiques and eating in pricy restaurants*).

If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have told you that my plans for post-training were similar.  I was definitely dreaming about owning my own home (which in my mind would miraculously not require any repairs or maintenance), and I could think of many places to which I wanted to travel and restaurants in which I wanted to eat.  But then came the unexpected work crisis, followed by the adoption of a budget.  While the initial motivation for putting myself on a budget was purely practical (eliminate crippling debt!), sticking to a budget over time (and reading lots of great frugal blogs) has taught me a lot of unexpected things about money and my relationship to it.

Money isn't necessary to have fun (and can sometimes make things less fun): 

Prior to the "great budget experiment", I did mostly the same three things for entertainment (eating in restaurants, going to movies, sitting in coffee shops/pubs).  While I enjoy all of these things and haven't stopped doing any of them entirely, there was a certain monotony to how I entertained myself.  With the introduction of the budget, I had to get creative in order to have fun without spending much (or ideally any) money.  Some of the things I've done for fun in the last year include potlucks (brunch, supper, appetizers), volunteering at a music festival (free tickets!), volunteering at a theatre festival (more free tickets!), free walking tours of my city, free movies in a local park, cycling (with a discarded bike that my girlfriend repaired for me), reading library books, attending free lectures at a local bookstore, and going to a snake pit to watch snakes mate (perfect activity for a nerd like me).  While all of these free/inexpensive activities were available to me before, having the constraint of a budget made me actually look for them.  I've enjoyed the new variety, and I've met a lot of interesting people through volunteering whom I never would've met otherwise.

More things make me less happy:

The message is everywhere (tv, magazines, websites) that having more things will make us happier (and more fulfilled/more successful/more desirable).  Since starting a budget ten months ago, I've bought almost no things for myself (a bike helmet was probably my largest purchase), and I honestly haven't felt like I'm missing anything.  I've also done a major purge of my apartment and gotten rid of about 10 garbage bags worth of stuff, and it feels wonderful to be free of so much clutter.  Having fewer things allow me to hang my jacket in the hall closet instead of over the back of a chair, to open cupboards without canned food falling on my head, and to actually find my bloody keys when I go looking for them in the morning.  Life is better with less stuff.

It's easy to waste a lot of money:

Pre-budget, I was stopping at Starbucks on most days (sometimes twice), buying all of my lunches at work, and getting takeout whenever I was bored/tired/in a hurry/feeling like celebrating/not interested in the food in my fridge.  I was easily spending hundreds of dollars a month on convenience items, all of which was being paid for with credit.  I've cut out all of these things pretty much entirely (I still spend $1.70 on tea from Tim Horton's on work days), and I barely even notice.

There are more things that I've learned about money, which will have to wait for another day, as it's time to change out of my sweatpants (yay vacation!) and go pick up my girlfriend.

How have your thoughts/feelings about money changed over the years?

*Okay, I'll admit it:  I love eating in pricy restaurants.  I will make a major splurge on a celebratory dinner once I get my first paycheque, and I will enjoy every bite and sip of it because it's been so long since I've visited my favourite restaurant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


My girlfriend is part of a very tightly knit church community; I, as an atheist, clearly am not.  In the beginning, we thought that this might be a major issue in our relationship, but it hasn't proven to be nearly as problematic as we had feared.  The other church members have been almost universally welcoming to me, despite the fact that their faith does not officially sanction same-sex relationships (and is certainly not in support of same-sex marriage).  I've eaten meals with church members, cuddled their children, and even attended a few services without bursting into flames.  All has gone very well.

Occasionally, however, issues do arise.  One of the biggest has been the issue of "small group", which is a group of church members who meet every few weeks to share a meal and discussion of their faith.  This is a major social and community event for my girlfriend, as well as for her family, with whom I've grown quite close over the past year and a half.  Because the group members discuss things that are going on in their lives (including personal struggles and disappointments), the events are closed to "outsiders" to encourage openness and honesty.  Which means that I, the atheist, am not invited.

And sometimes this feels hard.  It's difficult to be excluded from something that is so central to my girlfriend's life, especially when all of the other family members (including my girlfriend's new sister-in-law) are automatically included*.  And yet, aside from my relationship to my girlfriend, I don't really have a right or a reason to be there.  I'm certainly not going to contribute anything to the bible study, and it would only be awkward if the group offered to pray for me after I told them of something difficult in my life.  I don't quite know whether I should just accept the status quo, or force myself on a group to which I may not even want to belong.

Any thoughts?

*Not to mention the food I'm missing out on.  Perogies!  Farmer's sausage!  Baking in all its myriad of forms!  These people are amazing cooks.

Monday, July 27, 2015

21 Days

I had expected my vacation to be laid-back and leisurely, with an abundance of time for sleeping in and reading and doing whatever in the world I wanted to do.  Not so much.  Until now, I've kept myself busy with house and work tasks, with volunteering at our local music festival, and with attending way too many shows at our local Fringe (theatre) Festival.  It has been wonderful to have a change from work, but the time has still felt too busy, and I've often caught myself complaining to the girlfriend about being tired*.

All of that is about to change.  The festivals are over, the majority of the house/work tasks have been completed, and I have an almost completely empty schedule for the last 21 days of my vacation.  Day one of this phase of vacation has so far consisted of sleeping in, eating homemade Mexican breakfast and kale smoothies with the girlfriend, watching Master Chef, and trying to satisfy Hobbes's insatiable need for cuddles.

Why aren't you cuddling me?

My "plan" for this last stretch of holidays is to  To not have a long list of things to do**.  To not constantly rush from one place to the next.  To not obsessively plan every moment or worry that I'm not making effective use of my time.  To stop being the busy, stressed out person that medicine turned me into and be the relaxed, happy person that I used to be.

My hope is that, if I can remember how to focus on enjoying life instead of just getting through it, I can carry some of that knowledge forward into the next year.  I know that my first year as an attending is going to be a hard one, and that I will be stressed and overworked more often than I want to be, but I really don't want to hate it.  I want to remember to breathe and be present and take time.  To enjoy this stage that I worked so, so hard for 16 years to reach.

To just be.

*Note to self:  It isn't wise to complain to your girlfriend who works on her feet for eight hours a day about being tired while you're on vacation.  Her sympathy is very limited.  And she will expect you to rub her feet as penance.

*The one "goal" that I am setting for myself is to blog daily for the next 21 days.  I have missed the act of regularly writing here, and I have a seemingly constant stream of ideas for blog posts running through my head, so I want to get back into the habit of writing while I have an excess of time.  If there's anything you want to know about me or my experiences as a physician/a previously single person/a queer person/a theatre groupie, leave me a comment and let me know.  I'm sure I'll be looking for some blog fodder by the time the 21 days are up!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Going Into The Woods

It's the middle of the day on Friday, and when I would normally be finishing up my work for the week, I am instead lounging in a chair in the middle of a forest. After years of wanting to spend the entire weekend (four days actually) at my city's annual music festival, but being unable to do so because of work, I am now here. All weekend. It's wonderful.

Before I took time off, people kept asking me "Won't you get bored?" and "What will you do for seven weeks?"  I'm happy to report that, two weeks in, I've not for a significant period of time felt bored or at a loss for things to do. I've submitted all of the paperwork necessary to work as a real doctor; I've tackled the mammoth job of reorganizing my small apartment (which hasn't been organized in five years); I've crossed off multiple nagging tasks from my to do list (in some cases, after they've been there for literally years). While my holiday so far hasn't been the most exciting, it's given me a sense of accomplishment to do many of the things I've been putting off for far too long. And, as long as I can keep up with some of these things (e.g. the organization), they'll help me to be happier in the long term.

With respect to long-term happiness, I've also just finished reading Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project.  This time between fellowship and work feels quite liminal, so it seems only natural to devote a significant amount of it to thinking about important things like happiness. While I'm not prepared to follow in Gretchen's footsteps and embark on a year of resolutions to make me happier, I do think she has some good ideas that may be worth incorporating into my life. First of these is her command to "Be Gretchen", meaning to be honest with yourself about what makes you happy and to invest time in those things, rather than investing time in the things you think you should like.

To that end, while basking in the warm sun and listening to an assortment of banjos and ukuleles, I've started compiling my own "happiness list". Some of my things?

-  spending quality time with my girlfriend/other people
-  reading, especially if it's a book that changes my way of thinking/living in a positive way
-  exercise, especially in the morning before work (Who would have ever thought?)
-  getting a good night sleep
-  doing nice things for other people (e.g. visiting my grandma)
-  keeping a clean and organized apartment
-  listening to good music
-  being in nature
-  taking care of nagging tasks
-  eating (especially healthy things)
-  sticking to a budget
-  napping
-  cuddling
-  petting my cats
-  going to good movies
-  being silly/laughing
-  sitting in coffee shops
-  taking pictures of grain elevators/old buildings
-  road trips
-  bike riding
-  looking at recipes/cooking

What's on your "happiness list"?