That's not to say the rest of the year is spent swimming in dollar bills that fall from our magical money tree-- we budget very tightly to support six people on one income. We plan for big expenses by saving small bits over time, live debt-free, keep a very meagre savings, and make ends meet using each paycheque to the last dime.
What that means is that, personally, I start getting want-sy this time of year. It's true that we want what we can't have, and I'm mindful of this. I mean, the Ikea catalogue just came out! Sometimes I feel good about controlling my impulses to keep our budget on track. Other times, I feel immense guilt when I go over on something, even if we really, truly need it.
So, here's a list of things that enrich my life without the added guilt of cost: (a reminder for me as much as some ideas for you, oh cash-strapped friends)
Oh man, this is just in the last couple of years and some podcasts have really enriched my life. Making dinner, doing dishes, deep-cleaning a room or re-organizing the garage all become less awful activities when I turn on one of my go-to podcasts. I feel more worldly and informed by listening to in-depth analyses of current events on CBC's podcasts (Tapestry is my favourite). I transport myself into new worlds through NPR's Snap Judgement and Invisibilia. I joined along with everyone else checking for Serial updates last fall as though they were heroine. I like Dear Sugar because it's like having good friends over for tea. I could go on. Go find your own favourites! They're free!
I tapped into this at age 15, and dove into it full-force when I was a very cash-limited university student living off $60/groceries a week (if I was lucky and didn't need money for the bar). The ashtanga yoga series, once learned with a good teacher, was easy to memorize and do on my own. I still go through the motions of the familiar movements today. I do subscribe to an online service (yogaglo.com, $20/month) for more diverse classes, but when money gets tight it's back to my two yoga DVDs and the ashtanga series.
3- Library Books
If you can't tell already, I need escapes in my day. The original literary vessel for the ultimate escape, the book, is still alive and kicking in my world. I frequent my library, and almost always have a list of books for which I'm on hold to borrow. I keep a list on Goodreads.com of books I'd like to read, so it's easy to consult my list, go online to request a few titles, and they are ready and waiting for me next time I go to the library.
I also tapped into this free reservoir in university. I had gained the requisite Freshman 15 or so, and didn't have any money to spare on gym memberships or recreational sports. With a good pair of running shoes (this is a must, don't run in old shoes) I was set to get out and burn calories, raise endorphins and sweat things out for free. All you need, literally, is ground. I continue to run and though it may cost me time away from home (which comes at a premium, let me tell you), the benefits definitely outweigh the slim cost of a new pair of shoes every year.
5- At-Home date nights
This one takes a bit of convincing, for me. It is almost always more fun to go have a night on the town with my love. Reservations for a delicious dinner and a movie or concert would be wonderful, but it's a reality reserved for once or twice-a-year occasions. We still go out for desserts, or runs together, or the odd 'real' date, but most of the time we save money and have date nights in. Dinner and a movie without a babysitter to pay is also fun when neither of us has to be the designated driver-- we're already home! A bottle of wine to share always makes up for any disappointment on my part not to be heading out downtown.