24 - 2007

Spreadsheet frenzy, or moderation in obsession

Starting this blog has been an incredible motivator for me.

I have a tendency to obsess, to calculate, to love spreadsheets and data, although I’ve been told I’m more a creative type. A couple years ago, when I became intent on lowering our grocery bills, I dove in full-bore, subscribed to The Grocery Game for coupon notifications, and read the entire back catalog of the now-defunct Tightwad Gazette (the link is to Amazon, but I checked it out from the library).

Now that I’m blogging on frugality and greenness, my mind — and my copy of Excel — are awhirl.

All the information hasn’t yet made it to this site. But I’m keeping track of:

  • The cost of homemade products vs. the store-bought versions, their merits and bad points.
  • How much I spend and save on groceries (look for a rundown after the end of the month).
  • My total savings per month in dollars, water, and plastic bags avoided (I’ll unveil this one, too, at the beginning of July) — and how I do it.
  • Changes in my net worth (updated around the 10th of the month).
  • What we use. This one has my head spinning. We sometimes talk about moving to a more self-sufficient life. That raised the question for me: What exactly do we use? How much utilities do we consume?

The challenge for me — with money and ecology — is not to be too hard on myself. This afternoon, rain was looming. I had a load of sheets in the washer. Should I hang the sheets out, risking one of those spattering rainshowers that just sprays dirt all over the laundry? Or should I break down and throw them in the dryer? I chose the latter, but not without some guilt. The guilt was compounded by the fact that I’d washed the laundry in hot water, with a little dab of bleach (I don’t have washing soda on hand yet, or I’d have tried that) — this load of sheets and cloth pads needed to be sanitized.

I decided to go with the guilt this time, and call it my “normal American load of laundry.” That’s OK. Thanks to my spreadsheet, I can tell that my other 12 loads of laundry this month have been washed in cold water, in my high-efficiency washing machine, and hung to dry.

Moderation in all things is the key. No need to go crazy with consumption. No need to kill ourselves over an imperfectly ecological decision.

Sometimes I see other bloggers remark that even with small groups of people giving up their refrigerators or their cars, many more Americans would need to join them to reverse the trend toward global warming or bring our nation to a level of consumption on par with that of other nations. This implies that everyone should dramatically slash their consumption — or why bother?

The same could apply to money. If we’re trying to be ultra-frugal, it’s easy to get angry over one Starbucks stop. If we’re deep in debt, it’s easy to fly off the handle and argue, “I’m so far gone, what does it matter what I do?”

On the other hand, why not do a little? If everyone did one little thing, it might not make up for all the harm that’s ever been done — but surely it would help. Again, this applies to money as to saving the earth.

Mostly cold. Once in a while hot. And never too obsessive.

What’s your prescription for success? What do you want to see here? Let me know, and if I can, I’ll add it to my spreadsheets. Within moderation, of course.

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