Our frugal baptism by fire

As a part of our new and exciting beginnings on this new blog, I wanted to talk a little bit about a recent experience. While we were already fairly set on saving as much of my new stable (at least for the next couple of years) salary as possible, we were still in the very early phases or our financial independence quest. Life, on the other hand, had decided that were were going to start being frugal yesterday.

It all began when we moved back to Norway from overseas. We knew that a large portion of my salary would go towards general moving expenses. Such as advance payments on rent, getting furniture (we were super-lucky to have friends who let us borrow their car for driving around to pick up free furniture, but obviously we paid for the gas) and certain things we could not find used or free. We are still waiting until we find a cheap/free used vacuum cleaner, making do with a mop and dustpan for now.

I don’t think we did a half-bad job ourselves. Having furnished almost the entire flat with nary a penny spent except on gas for our friend’s car and two cute (still used) nightstands for 250 NOK (about $25). All our big furniture like shelves, tables, chairs, mattress and a pull-out sofa bed were all picked up over the course of a few months while I lived with a friend and then promptly deposited in the flat on moving-in day. Mr. E. arrived shortly thereafter and we felt certain that our plans of intense savings for future and happiness would soon commence.

The perfect storm

As you might have guessed, this was when things started taking a more surprising turn. While we expected Mr. E. to receive his university scholarship by mid-August, something in his application caused it to delay.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I stashed 3 000 NOK of my August paycheck into our mortgage savings account in the naive confidence that Mr. E. would get his scholarship in August, just like it had always done previously. Ah, naive frugal padawan, that will not do.

Despite this scholarship delay and my over-optimistic frugal failure, we were still fine on my single salary for now. That was, until Mr. E. got word from the tax office that he had to pay an exorbitant amount of taxes in just two instalments in August and September. We are still working on resolving the issue that caused this error in the first place, but suffice to say, when the tax office demands payment, you pay first, discuss later.

So there we were, in the middle of August, we had just started to fill our pantry with beans, flour, sugar and other staples, and when we ran the math we found out that my single income would be able to afford:

  • Our rent – 9 500 NOK, luckily internet is included!
  • Electricity – 500 NOK
  • My student loan – 1 500 NOK
  • Mr. E’s tax bill 7 500 NOK
  • Our phone bills (200 NOK each) – 400 NOK
  • My 3 000 NOK savings blunder (not doing this the second month did free things up a bit)
  • Which left 2 100 NOK for everything else (or about half what we would normally spend on food for the two of us)
  • Sum: 24 500 NOK, or my entire paycheck after tax

And there was no room for anything outside this list. No public transit, no “I forgot my lunch”, no TV, and quite painfully for students: No books, used or otherwise. We came to depend on our libraries for everything. The only “extra” we had was my measly 1 000 NOK in my would-be emergency fund, which drained quickly to pay for Mr. E’s medical appointments.

For the next 2 months, we lived like that. Luckily, berries were in season, so we spent quite a few hours hiking in the woods to pick blueberries, lingonberries, and fruitlessly searching for cloudberries (we will find them, eventually!). We also found a couple of red currant bushes by the roadside, which had strayed from various gardens in the nearby area. All were returned and we spent precious pennies loading up on bags of sugar to preserve juice and jams.

I got off my lazy butt and let my bus pass expire. Most of the days I’ve been biking, but walking is also nice and takes me less than 45 minutes. A trip I am more than willing to spend time on once in a while, especially when winter hits us with darkness and ice-slick roads. Especially on my way home, I really enjoy unplugging after a long workday by listening to podcasts as I climb the hills back up to our flat.

Since we couldn’t buy anything (Mr. E. loves books in general, and I do have a soft spot for vegan cookbooks), we had to get creative about how to do Mr. E’s literature homework. Luckily for us, most of it is classic literature, of which there were various free audio books on pages like Librivox. We spent many happy evenings snuggled up in our couch, watching sunsets from our window, crocheting, solving old jigsaw puzzles and listening to classic tales. It was a liberating break from more action-paced TV series, and a habit we will most likely continue with.

In addition to hiking and reading, we did not let our social life fall by the wayside. The city we moved to is a city I’ve lived in previously, so we invited friends over for a frugal moving-in party, arranged board game nights, and since Mr. E. naturally found nice people in his class, we invited some of them over too. I am very much an introvert, so I can honestly say I have been more than satisfied. There is even talk about Mr. E. starting a writing club, which I hope he will.

The food

As you might have noticed, I have not mentioned our scarce food budget as an issue. This is mostly due to how it has not felt like much of an issue to us. As soon as we sat down to crunch the numbers and realised exactly how much we had to spend, our mentality adjusted accordingly.

Our pantry, which we had just barely started to fill, was assessed and systematically drained. Veggies were bought cheap and frozen, and our food choices were heavily reliant on what we had. Our two staples became lentil loaf with rice, sauce and homemade lingonberry relish (sometimes there were even steamed asparagus beans!), another staple was boiled rice fried with frozen veg and soy sauce. Our breakfasts were often scones, homemade by Mr. E. Lunch was whatever leftovers we had, but I also have a stockpile of oats, cinnamon, salt and raisins at work for “emergency” oatmeal.

In short, while our situation was enforced, we knew we had nothing to gain by bitching about it, so we just got to it and tried to see the bright side. After all, our budget did tell us we would manage, even if we skated dangerously close to zero.

Best of all. We knew it was temporary. As soon as Mr. E’s two tax instalments were paid, we would get a lot more wriggle room, even if Mr. E’s scholarship for some reason should not come through. Knowing it was only going to last for a maximum of two months was a big part in our attitude to just buckle down and get through it.

The storm passed

Then, in the middle of September, as with all storms, it passed. The day after we paid the second and last tax instalment, Mr. E. got word from the scholarship institution that his application had gone through and he would be paid presently.

Big sighs of relief were breathed as we felt an enormous weight rise off our shoulders all at once. Of course, we had been hoping that it would come through, but being good realistic frugalists that we are, we had been hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.

It might still take some time for things to return entirely to normal (I have to admit, we may or may not have splurged a little bit in the fresh veg. and snack aisle once the money came in). But we got through it and learned a thing or ten along the way.

First on our list for the money we save is a healthy emergency fund. We both sorely agree that this is the very last time we want to (hopefully) skate this close to the bottom line.

Onward, to greater savings!

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