Year of Zero – End of Year Review

We have made it to the end of this mad, bad, sad year and here I am with the Year of Zero – End of Year Review. At least in Australia, things have returned more or less to “normal” with no community cases for COVID for X days. The US and Europe are in mid-winter and things are getting worse. (I wrote this piece in mid-December and since then Greater Sydney which now includes Wollongong, has been hit by another bout of COVID19 with partial lockdowns and borders re-closing. My return to normal prediction was a little early!)

End Of Year Review

Over the last three months, (October – December) I feel like I have taken my foot off the spending brake and not stuck to my plan well. I did reach my savings goal but I think I could have done better. I have made a few purchases in preparation for my Great Southern Road Trip and although I am putting those on next year’s balance sheet, it has led to a change in mindset. I have been less frugal and more ‘spendy’. I have succumbed to some unnecessary purchases and while for the most part, they were second-hand op shop finds they were still not essential. AND of course there was Christmas! Although I don’t need to buy many gifts there was some outlay.

On top of that, in late November I discovered that I have to do a very expensive plumbing job on my home as the roots from a large tree have cracked and blocked my stormwater pipes. The build-up of water is flooding my neighbours’ yards. It’s going to cost several thousand to fix. Thankfully, I can split the bill with the other strata owners and most will come from the Strata funds. However, I think it will be more than we have set aside. 

My ultimate financial goal is to pay down my mortgage debt so I can retire by 2023. As a result, next year and the year after will need to be Close to Zero Years as well.

My self-report for the Year of Zero – End of Year Review follows.

1. No overseas travel

A stunning success! All year I have not stepped off the continent of Australia! 

Score: 10/10

2. No extended travel within Australia

I did go to Broken Hill in late September which I included in the last quarter review. I also went to my Mum’s for Christmas. Only cost being the train fare so all good on this front too. 

Score: 10/10

3. No New Stuff

My goal is to buy no new items and only replace things that have broken or worn out. 

Allowed items

  • My phone screen needed to be replaced. This was expensive – but the repair was ¼ the cost of a new phone so worth doing.
  • The zip on my wallet broke so I had to replace that – 2nd hand. 

    Items not on the list

  • A book “Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans
  • I got my 2021 wall calendars printed but have sold enough to cover the cost so this does not really count. 
  • Gifts for family members including (too much) Lego for my Grandson. 
  • I spent a fair bit buying some unnecessary clothes from Op Shops this quarter. I justified it by clearing out some other stuff from my wardrobe but I really could have done without it. At least it was not new!
  • Not “stuff” but I did pay for a subscription to Future Crunch and The Guardian.

Score: 4/10

4. Reduction in expenditure on groceries

This category is back on track. I have been making good savings on food and usually have some leftover cash at the end of each fortnight. I have been squirreling this away to use as a food kitty for the upcoming festive season. I also have been stocking up the freezer so will be able to have a few “free weeks”. For those of you who might say why don’t you cook less? Well, it’s a bit hard to make a single serve of spag bol!! I think next year I could investigate cutting back the allocated budget a bit more.

Score: 10/10

5. Side Hustle Happening

I actually made some progress here. As I said above I have sold enough of my calendars to break even and cover the cost and I sold some of my beeswax wraps. I’m not ready to list myself on the stock exchange yet but at least I made a bit of cash! (BTW there are still some calendars left if you’d like to buy one!)

Score 8/10

Buy one!

6. Only sign up for free courses

I didn’t do any courses free or otherwise this quarter.  I have been snowed under with the day job! 

Score: 10/10

7. Sell some of my stuff

No, no action here

    Score: 0/10

8. Concentrate on free activities. 

I think I have done OK in this category. I went on a few adventures with my grandson which required only train fare and food. We got free tickets to the Australian Museum when it reopened. I did a long walk (31 km) with some friends in place of the Seven Bridges Walk, this was “free” although we did make a donation to the Cancer Council. I went out for dinner once with a friend and although I went to trivia several times, my expenditure was very low as I ate before I went and I stuck to one non-alcoholic beer. 

Score: 7/10

9. Zero-waste-eco-warrior

I am still using more plastic-wrapped foods than I‘d like as I am having trouble finding suitable replacements. I made a one-off investment bought some salad vegies and herbs. I think I could grow those in summer at least. Apart from this, this goal is going well. It’s become ingrained, rather than special now. 

Score: 7/10

10. Year of Zero Booze

The day before this post is published will be the 365th day of my Zero Alcohol challenge. I made it right through!  It is no longer a challenge and it will be a big decision as to whether I start drinking again. 

Score 10/10

and the final score is…..

This quarter, my frugal-o-meter score is 76%. The highest so far, so despite feeling like I let the side down buying clothes I didn’t need, I have ended up OK!  

Here end-eth the Year of Zero 2020. I’ll let you know at the end of 2021 if I have stuck to my savings target despite not having a declared Year of Zero. I intend to remain frugal but will be doing some extended travel! Stay tuned for the Great Southern Road Trip!

Style guide for living

I’m always looking for ways to make my life calmer and more enriching. I like lists! I like grand declarations and sticking to plans. (did you notice! 🙂 ) I’ve decided to adopt my COVID to do list as a style guide for living. Think of it as a personal list of T&Cs.

Why would I want a style guide for living? Modern life, pre or post-pandemic, is a mass of decision points. Living in a developed country, I have lots of choices. Take acquiring and preparing food for example. The choices I  can make include whether I:

  • waste or not waste food. 
  • shop at the multinational supermarket or the farmers’ market
  • buy stuff in plastic or not
  • buy bulk or not
  • freeze or not
  • eat meat or other animal products or not 
  • plan meals or buy on impulse

I could keep going. If I wrote a similar list for exercising it would be equally as long. Is a 5-minute burst of HIIT (high-intensity interval training)  really as beneficial as a one-hour walk/run? 

I want to choose healthy plant based food.

Decision fatigue is a real thing. 

Habits help us manage decision fatigue to a certain point but having a style guide for living can shepherd your choices and, to an extent, eliminate many of the daily decisions you need to make.  It leads to a greater level of automaticity and hence less anxiety. Choice is not all it’s cracked up to be as Barry Schwartz clearly demonstrated in his book the Paradox of Choice. If you have too many choices you tend to make none! Dr Laurie Santos also talks about this on her podcast, The Happiness Lab. Check out Season 1 Episode 8 on Choice Overload.

To-do becomes  Ta-da

A few months ago I wrote about my COVID to-do list and how I decided to turn it into a ta-da list as a way of celebrating success rather than beating myself up with the things I had not crossed off.  My aim for each day of lock down was to:

  • create something, 
  • organise something, 
  • learn something new and 
  • move everything (as in exercise). 

Ticking off these things every day was a TA-DA moment!  The things didn’t need to be big and were open to interpretation. This list served me well and I have decided to keep it as part of my life.

I want to re-badge the TA-DA list as my style guide for living.

Creating a small image counts.

Style Guide for Living

The style guide for living is not intended to be a daily to-do list but rather a way of living. I don’t expect to be able to cross each item off every day. Rather that I see myself as the type of person who for instance, values AND participates in regular exercise. It builds on my ikigai (reason for getting up) which I outlined in a recent post.

I have been mulling over an idea for a mnemonic to capture my style guide and make it easier for me to internalise and remember. The Ta-Da categories spell out a rather awkward COLM!  I want to be calm not COLM! I’ve been working on a better mnemonic – CALMER.

Here is my first attempt. 

C – Create before you consume. I don’t intend to create something everyday but rather be a person who creates before they consume.

A – Arrange (as in organise) – I will be a person who stays organised and de-cluttered.

L – Learn something new – I will be a life long learner

M – Meditate – I will meditate regularly to improve my mental health

E – Exercise – I will be the type of person who incorporates exercise into my life as often as possible.

R – Reduce/reuse/recycle – I will be the type of person who reduces their environmental impact.

This misses a few important aspects of life that I want to include, like healthy eating food, restful sleep and positive relationships. 

PERMA+

Greater minds than my own struck this problem too. PERMA is a concept and mnemonic that’s been around in the positive psychology space for a while now. PERMA focuses on five pillars that have been shown to lead to positive mental wellbeing, namely:

P = Positive emotions

E = Engagement

R = Relationships
M = Meaning

A = Accomplishment

To fill in the physical factors necessary for overall good health and to launch it into a state of flourishing,  the schema evolved to PERMA+ (said PERMA plus) The “plus” being good diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as resilience and optimism. They just lumped everything they couldn’t fit into the plus sign!

CALM-FEST?

I have been fooling with a few iterations for my own version of the PERMA+ concept and I’ve turned CALMER into a festival – CALM-FEST!

C – Create before you consume

A – Arrange (as in organise)

L – Learn something new

M – Meditate

F – Friends, family and my community.

E – Exercise 

S – Sustenance and sleep.

T – Tread lightly on our Earth.

It’s a work in progress!  If you have any ideas for better words that encapsulate my intentions, please comment below. Especially the “S” to cater for sleep and food.


Some of these intentions will be easy to achieve everyday. For others, I’ll be happy if I can do them 20 out of 30 days in the month. Borrowing from the ideas of BJ Fogg in his book Tiny Habits (which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post) at the very least each day should be a mini-festival!

Cut back on your daily decisions by working out your style guide for living.
Meditation helps settle your mind

Free mammogram anyone?

I had a mammogram recently and the whole experience made me tear up with gratitude and joy.  An odd reaction perhaps, but my joy and gratitude was for the free health screening services provided by the Australian government. 

Free Health Screening

I have written about the bowel cancer screening program which is provided to all Australians over 50 in a previous post. Once you turn 50, the Government sends you a kit every 5 years to test your poo for blood. If you get a positive result, like I did last year, you’ll be scheduled for a colonoscopy.

Free mammograms are available for all women (cis or trans) between 50 and 74. It is recommended you have the procedure every two years. Breastscreen NSW provides the service in my home state, but each state has a similar service.

Every two years.

My regular two-year check up was a lovely experience. I know that sounds a bit cheesy but bear with me!  For many women, the idea of having their breasts squeezed firmly between two plates is not much fun. Yes, it is uncomfortable and yes, someone you don’t know will be handling your breasts and “smoothing” them out on the plate BUT the surroundings and the care and kindness offered by the people who work there, make it a pleasant experience.  

The clinics are nicely furnished and softly lit. The receptionist greets you in a friendly and courteous manner. You’ll be asked to fill out a form. Since there were still COVID restrictions at the time I had the procedure, most of this form had been filled out two days prior to my visit when the lovely receptionist rang me. This meant I didn’t have to be at the clinic any longer than necessary. 

Once in the treatment room, the radiographer asked me to get undressed from the waist up and checked my identity again. The lights were dim and the room was well heated. 

I was then positioned in front of the machine and the radiographer told me how to stand and gently guided me to get the correct positions, before retreating behind the screen to take the shots. These days the images are recorded digitally rather than on film. You have a front image and a side image of each breast. 

It takes about twenty minutes, then you get dressed and leave! You get the results after about two weeks. A letter is also sent to your GP. If there are any abnormalities your doctor will contact you.

I couldn’t find an Australian video showing what to expect but here’s one from John Hopkins.  

From John Hopkins Hospital

You don’t need a referral for the screening once you are over 50. Like the bowel cancer kits, you’ll get your first invitation as a fiftieth birthday present! After that, you’ll get a reminder every two years.

Ultrasound vs X-rays?

I spoke to an ultrasound technician (My Cousin Kris!) and she said that ultrasound images are superior to x-rays especially for women with smaller breasts because they have better resolution. 

Ultrasound scans are not part of the free screening program and you will need to pay for it yourself unless the place you go to bulk bills. She recommended you get an ultrasound every second time you get an x-ray screening image to increase the chance of detection. 

Breast cancer is diagnosed in close to 20,000 Australians each year. It accounts for 6% of cancer deaths. The 5 year survival rate is high (91%) because of services such as the screening program which allows for early detection. Early detection of any cancer is vital for successful treatment, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of the Breastscreen Service?

So don’t be scared – bare your boobs in the name of good health!