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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8 thoughts on “Spreadsheet frenzy, or moderation in obsession

  1. patti says:

    I’m trying to drive less (hard to quantify, but I’m working on it), not use new plastic bags (I am re using the ones I have, and the supply seems endless), not buy new clothes for myself and my 14 y.o. boy, not buy new stuff (blew it yesterday, my boy needed new swim trunks), grow some of our own food, and not waste ANYTHING. I don’t have a prescription. Right now I’m just trying to think about everything we do.

  2. cheaplikeme says:

    That sounds amazing! I had to giggle at your “I blew it yesterday” by buying new swim trunks for your son. Again, I think moderation is important. It sounds like you’re doing more than practically all Americans, so one new purchase is hardly blowing it. The trouble with secondhand is that it can be excruciating to find WHAT you need, WHEN you need it!

  3. Deb C says:

    I, too, had to make the decision to throw a load of laundry into the dryer. I figured it was more environment friendly than re-washing the laundry after the rain stopped. For the most part I’ve stopped using my dryer and I’ve seen a positive impact on my natural gas bill. Also, I keep a stash of canvas bags (bought on sale at a local grocery store for 75 cents each) in my car and near the door so it’s easier to remember them. I’m trying to limit car trips by consolidating errands. I’m growing some veggies and herbs and trying to find local sources for the rest. I use power strips to stop the “vampires.” And I read blogs like yours to give me inspiration.

  4. Melissa says:

    We’re trying to institute recycling at our house (I know! shame that it’s taken this long), and I’m on the hunt for canvas or mesh grocery bags. Small steps, but new for us.

  5. Amy Varner says:

    Like most people I know, I do what I can to conserve (driving a lot less is my biggest one these days), but I can’t wait to hear your tips and tricks. Oh, and I am a closet cheapskate, so you are a woman after my own heart.

  6. frugaltoo says:

    I smiled with your laundry dilemma! I’m glad I’m not the only one committed to not using the dryer. A very tiny investment in a wooden drying rack has been my salvation – I probably use the dryer a handful of times a year now. I’ll keep reading for more tips!

  7. L'an says:

    Once you start unveiling the results of your spreadsheets… I hope you’ll share your assessment of homemade vs. bought prepared. I’ve often wondered whether I’m actually saving anything by doing it myself (when taking into account the investment of time in addition to materials, but even just in terms of materials!)

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