Last week the Funemployed family kicked off our Summer Spending Challenge . Our goal is a reduction to 30% of our typical summer spending profile, down to $500/mo or $1000 for the whole summer. I can’t believe it’s been a week already, and what a dreary week it has been. We’ve had rain the whole time, so the entire family has been trapped inside going a little stir crazy.

To increase our chances of success, we applied a little bit of science to the process. Here’s the steps we followed:

  1. Write down a list of activities
  2. Distinguish between Create vs. Consume activities
  3. Understand what causes happiness


Write down a list of activities

Yes! We made a list. One day I’ll go off on a rant about why anything that is important to you should be written down, but today is not the day. We created a list of things to do, separated into 3 categories:

1. Free/Near-Free Activities

  • Town summer events
  • Spray park
  • Play in the river/lake nearby
  • Trail running
  • Mountain Biking
  • Activity books with the kids
  • Courses (financial planning, Udemy)
  • Reading/spelling with the kids
  • Go for a walk or invite a friend for coffee
  • Read a book
  • Quilting
  • Selling stuff on Facebook
  • Weight lifting
  • Binge watch Game of Thrones
  • Guitar practice
  • Do something nice for someone
  • Host a supper

2. Low-Cost Activities

  • Yoga
  • Swimming pool
  • Backpacking with the kids
  • Local recreation facilities (pool, bouldering wall)
  • Low cost races
  • Visit friends and/or their vacation homes

    3. High-Cost Activities

    • Restaurants/Fast Food
    • Wave pool/trampoline parks/science centres
    • Summer camps for kids
    • Commitments for large trips (skiing or vacation rentals)
    • High price race entry fees > $100

    Everything in category 1) can be pursued with reckless abandon and happens to be our largest category. Notice there are several items that have already been paid for but haven’t been completed such as making a quilt for my youngest daughter and finishing off some online courses I’ve been taking.

    Category 2) items are allowed but they need to be carefully considered and discussed before proceeding. If an item from category 1) could be subsistuted, then it should.

    Category 3) items are a big fat no. This was the most important list of all, because these activities will bite us in the ass if we don’t call them out. They make us feel good because they develop skills or personal growth but at a relatively high cost. This, my dear, is our lifestyle inflation category.


    Distinguish between Create vs. Consume activities

    There are two very distinct categories of activities, and they have very different characteristics. 

    Consumption activities are what you would generally look forward to when you want to unwind, and they are passive in nature. Think of watching TV or sports, eating at a restaurant, or attending a play or a concert. They involve someone else entertaining you, and they are generally expensive. 

    Creation activities take a little bit more energy to start and they are active in nature. You create something or build upon a skill. Think of any physical exercise where you are a participant, or anything that involves learning such as woodworking, writing, or playing an instrument. These activities may even create a Flow state while in the moment and looking back on them, seem fulfilling and worthwhile.

    When looking at your recreation/leisure/entertainment list, it’s worthwhile to distinguish between what percentage are Create activities and what percentage are Consume activities. I am happy to report that most of our free activities are in the Create category, with the exception to watching Game of Thrones. It’s like a car wreck that I can’t pull my eyes away from. It is worth noting that I never get up off my ass and feel good about the hour I just spent in front of the television, ever.

    Another interesting point is that as we move down the list from free activities to high-cost activities, the activities themselves start sliding into consumption territory, where we spend a lot of money for an experience (even if we are still a part of it).


    Understand what causes happiness

    Here’s where we get to all that Meaning of Life shit. I’m sorry to ruin it for you, but it’s never about buying stuff. It is always about 3 main things. I’ve seen them called “Pillars of Happiness” or “Self Determination Theory” or whatever, but it’s all the same. Ready? Here we go!

    1. Growth
    2. Autonomy
    3. Community

    Our activity list means nothing if it doesn’t address the fundamental basics of what makes us happy. This means that we need to continually grow and challenge ourselves. Sometimes this comes out in a feeling of specialization (competence) or in the humble feeling of being a beginner. We also need autonomy in our lives, the feeling that we can choose what to do with our time and that we feel authentic while doing it. Finally, we need to do things with and for people, to foster a sense of community and of family.

    With this in mind, priority will be given to activities that involve others and that offer some challenge or growth.

    Results from Week 1


    No, I haven’t forgotten that this is supposed to be an update post! Our list has been officially taped to the fridge door to act as a sort of compass. Results from this week are as follows:

    Goal: $111/week ($1000/9 weeks)

    Week 1: $141.31

    Difference: -$30.31

    I bought thread and a fabric pen from the quilt store ($28), Mr. Funemployed ordered bike parts from MEC ($63) and a GPS subscription ($6) so that he can find his way in the middle of nowhere during a bikepacking race* he has planned later this month. We also bought paper supplies ($24) for our kids, since they have cleaned us out of computer paper, and made a $20 donation to the library for hosting an international meal.

    What I find the most interesting is the stuff we did for free. Our eldest child, who is 8 years old, has been pestering us non-stop to start a podcast. I’ve made a few semi-serious attempts to figure it out and break into a cold sweat when I think of the time involved downloading audio files, editing, starting another website, and learning what the hell RSS feed means. Thankfully, some saintly individual created an app called Anchor and within 2 days my ENTJ mini-me has recorded 8 episodes. She’s wondering why you haven’t downloaded her podcast yet…

    On a personal note, while making the list I realized that getting ripped is entirely free! We have a set of free weights at home, so I’m attempting to rotate through all muscle groups at least once a week in addition to the regular cardio regime we have. So my week was; back and biceps, trail running, chest and tris, yoga, ab workout + mountain biking, legs, and a day off. I’m exhausted, but feeling pumped about next week!

    Even though we were slightly off target this week, I’m excited about continuing to find free ways to amuse my kids over the summer months. Until next week. 


    *Bikepacking is to mountain biking like ultramarathon running is to your 10km road run. Someone plots out a 400km, 1000km, or 3000km race course on GPS and then 13 guys show up on race day to see who needs the least amount of sleep. The race is free, but the gear, bike maintenance, and associated physiotherapy is not.