In the past, I’ve written about No Spend months (I even tracked “No Spend” days for an entire year). When we were working to get our spending under control, that process was really helpful in tracking our day to day spending and making sure we were intentional with where our money went.
Our dog had to have surgery in 2019 to amputate a few toes, on top of cardiologist appointments and daily heart pills, adding up to over $7,000 in pet care expenses for the year. Unlike 2017 when we had $3,000 of unexpected vet bills due to an emergency overnight visit for her, 2019 was an expensive year for veterinary and pet costs but not one that was problematic for our monthly finances.
In 2017, we had to decide whether to drain our emergency fund after the emergency vet visit and larger home repair expenses or open a 0% interest credit card. In 2019, we simply cash flowed them as they arose. Even now in 2020 where my husband and I are both working 80% time, we have saved a bit more than 40% of our income over the year.
Our finances are in a much better position than three and a half years ago when we were struggling with unexpected expenses, and even then, we were still in a solid position. It might have felt stressful to worry about spending our emergency fund or choosing to open a 0% credit card in order not to pay credit card interest, but even then, we were in a good position overall.
We have now owned our home for 9.5 years (and just refinanced to a 2.375% interest rate), both of us have secure jobs that pay decently well, and we pay very little in childcare these days (reduced rent to the roommate as he helps homeschool the kiddo one day a week). As we close out 2020, people have either ended up in a better financial situation (like us), or a much, much worse one (like too many friends we know who have ben out of work or underemployed for months).
Either you still have your job (and there’s a good chance you’re doing it at home now, removing the commute) and your expenses have dropped (no vacation spending, less gas, no going out to restaurants/movies/concerts/etc), or you’re one of the millions of Americans who are out of work due to the extended COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Since we are in the former group, it feels like it is our responsibility to be especially intentional in our spending right now. Back in March of 2020, I started the Eastside Restaurant Support group on Facebook to help assist our local restaurants and hopefully keep more of them around during and through COVID lockdowns.
Summer was a bit of a reprieve with lower COVID numbers and more ability to distance comfortably outdoors, but with the colder weather and higher numbers, things are looking more dire these days. That, and because many who had the ability to support local businesses earlier in the year have run low on funds or have lost jobs themselves and can no longer support like they did early on.
We are in a marathon now, not a sprint. We aren’t out of this now, ten months later. And we won’t be out of it for a while yet. Even once the vaccines are wider spread, businesses will have been closed for good and jobs will have been forever lost. The economic recovery, along with the catastrophic loss of life, are not things that will simply disappear and have everything go back to normal on a dime.
2021: The Year of Small Business
If we want our local restaurants, our local food coop, our local toy store, our local bookstores, our local arts organizations to still be around come 2022 when things are (I hope) more back to normal, we have to act now. One of my biggest long term fears is that we will look up once COVID is in our past and find ourselves left with just big box stores and big chain restaurants.
Minority owned businesses have closed in the largest numbers and are projected to continue to close at the largest rates. These small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and what makes them vibrant and special. If we don’t act now, they will be gone forever. While future entrepreneurs will fill some of that void, much of what we lose now won’t come back. At least, not in our lifetimes.
Local Spend January
So this year, instead of kicking off a No Spend month for January which is the more common thing to do, I’m kicking off a Local Spend January. For those of us who are in good financial positions, let’s think more about how we can do good, and not just for ourselves.
Clearly, our federal government should – and needs – to play a role here, but that is (mostly) out of our control, so for this, my goal is to focus on what I can control. And what I can control, now that we spend intentionally with a high savings rate, is where we spend our money. (My city makes it easier with Shop Local Kirkland – so I’m pretty lucky there).
While we may not have given up Amazon Prime yet – mostly for access to the kiddo’s shows – my goal is to continue to push back against the automatic order of “stuff” from Amazon simply because it’s the easy option.
Yes, it’s cheaper and faster to get a new book for homeschool kindergarten off Amazon, but we have some fabulous local bookstores that have a great selection. Our grocery store walking distance away might be our default, but as we’re consciously making fewer trips these days because of COVID, it’s not a big deal to drive to a local farm store nearby.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking and acting on this in 2020, but in January, I want to step it up a notch.
As Athena says, “I can’t get mad if shops close in my neighborhood if I don’t shop at them.
This happened recently with a local mall, everyone was angry when they first tried to close it yet they kept it open and no one still went to spend money there. I don’t want to be a hypocrite but it’s so easy to do Amazon since it’s cheaper.”
It takes a bit more effort and planning, and yes, a bit more money, to shop local, but it’s worth it. We all want those places around once we can finally venture back out into “normal life,” but they won’t be there if we don’t support them now. Now, more than ever, we need to vote with our dollars, or we won’t have a vote any longer.
I want to note here that there are families for which a “No Spend” January is a very good idea – specifically if they are on a very tight budget/newly unemployed/learning how to budget and save money. This is also true for disabled folks, who have only so much bandwidth each day and week, and if the extra effort to shop local is detrimental to your life in other ways, then it’s absolutely okay to shop at Amazon with no guilt. But for those of us who *can* do this, then I feel pretty strongly that we absolutely should.
Local Spend 2020 has definitely been a thing, but now I’m all in for Local January. Join me?