This month I've made it my priority to finally get on top of all my old receipts which for the past year I've just been throwing in a big plastic box every few days when my wallet gets too full of them. For tax reasons I have to keep track of each and every purchase, and put it into a spreadsheet. But I've just been throwing them in the box.
So tax season is coming up and I decided once and for all to break my bad habit* of not cataloging my receipts in a timely manner. So I've invested in a whole new system of files and folders and gotten the entire 2008 year ready to go, and it's working marvelously so far. But I also wanted to put the past behind me and finally enter all those old receipts.
So, I spent an entire day organizing and another whole day putting the receipts into Excel. This amount of time (nearly 16 hours) spent closely analyzing stuff I bought more than a year ago really taught me a lot about myself and my spending habits. So many times I wondered why I had bought some stupid thing and even more times I couldn't help imagining how much extra money I would have today if I had only skipped a few of those mochas or snacks from the convenience store.But what was most revealing was that some months in particular had a lot more receipts for junk food, pizza delivery, and cheap restaurants. It took me a while to figure out the pattern, but finally I put it together. It was during times of emotional stress that those receipts for junk food and eating out really shot up. And the good months when everything was going well had me buying a lot of healthy food from the supermarket and vegetable seller. The irony is of course that when you're under a lot of pressure your body is already going through the wringer, (see my post on How Stress Affects the Body) and the last thing it needs is fatty, nutritionless junk going in it. Also, if there was ever a time to slow down and quietly prepare a home-cooked meal, it would be when you are stressing out.
The funny thing is, I thought that I was pretty in control of myself during those tough stressful times. After all, my job is teaching people how to handle stress and take care of themselves. And if you had asked me during those hard months if I was "stressing out" I would have been like "nah, it's hard right now but I'm dealing with it well." The receipts however, tell a different story.
So the next time you're feeling the pressures we all go through in the course of our lives, stop for a minute and try to imagine yourself looking back at the situation a year or two out. What choices would you be proud you had made? And which ones would you slap yourself on the forehead about? It's a pretty sure bet that one good one would be to make a small space in the day to enjoy the rhythms of chopping, the smell of fresh ingredients, and the satisfaction of actually thinking about what you but in your body, with a home-cooked meal.
*I've found this site called Joe's Goals really, really helpful in getting me to stick to my resolutions this year. What I've found is that when I fail to change a habit, it's not because I'm actively deciding not to do it, just that I forget about it because it's not, well, a habit. This site makes it so that you see your goals and are reminded of your commitment often throughout the day, and that's usually enough to get me to do it. I've added my Joe's Goals graph on the blog so you can check in and see how I'm doing over there on the right side!