When I quit smoking a couple of years ago, my waistline paid a very dear price for the health of my lungs.  The sacrifice it had made seemed noble at first, but I quickly grew tired of hearing seams ripping as the seat of my shrinking jeans began to split.  It was time to do something about it.
After several failed attempts at shedding the extra poundage, I began keeping a food journal.  I meticulously recorded the caloric content of each and every morsel of food or beverage that passed my lips.  It was tedious, at times, but it gave me the opportunity to consider what I was eating – both before and after it had been consumed.  There were times when I would cringe as I added up the previous day’s calories, and other times when I would re-consider a tasty pastry in the morning, knowing I would have to write it down. 
And did I mention effective?  I lost a total of 30 pounds. 
Of course, I don’t attribute all of the lost weight to the food journal – I also began training for a half-marathon (13.1 miles), and was jogging 25 – 30 miles per week.  But I truly believe the food journal helped me to understand my dietary consumption patterns.  It provided insight about which foods gave me energy, and what made me feel bloated.  I was able to pinpoint the days when I drank enough water, versus the times I drank too much alcohol (talk about empty calories!).  It was like a little window into my body that I could use to evaluate what I ate.
As I sat in the lunchroom several days ago, I mentally calculated the number of calories in my lunch.  I also had this blog in the back of my mind.  And that’s when I questioned:
Why am I not tracking my consumption of other items, the same way I track the consumption of food?
A budget is not what I’m talking about.  I do keep a budget, and I record every cent that is spent out of it.  But I’m not necessarily referring to the dollars I spend as a whole.  I am thinking more about what I do with those items once I spend the dollars.  Am I getting my money’s worth?  Are these items worth buying?
In an attempt to demonstrate what I’m talking about, allow me to offer a comparison of good consumption, and bad consumption.
Good consumption:
More that 2 years ago, I purchased a stainless steel Nissan coffee thermos.  I cannot recall the exact price, but it was something I considered steep.  Around $30, I think.  So why is this good consumption?  Well, my employer does provide coffee of a decent quality – but they brew it so thick that it feels more like swallowing molasses than it does a refreshing wake-up call.  In my defense, I am no sissy when it comes to strong coffee.  R prefers his coffee so strong, that he refuses to fill our 12-cup coffee maker more than half-full – any more water than that, and his coffee is too weak.  I have grown accustomed to drinking it that way as well.
So instead of either walking around in a zombie-like state each morning, or buying a cup of coffee every morning and facing the “latte factor,” I began brewing my own, and bringing it to work with me in my state-of-the-art thermos.  On those rare days when we are either out of coffee, or out of time to wait for it to brew, there is a local coffeehouse down the street from my office that offers a $1 fill-up, if you bring your own mug. 
Now, some may say I needn’t have a fancy-schmancy Nissan thermos – any old thing would do.  But in my case, that’s simply not true.  I ride the bus in to work, and it takes me a little over an hour, from my front door to my office door.  A quality thermos is needed to keep the coffee piping hot for the duration of the ride.  My coffee craving peaks at various times each morning – I can’t have my thermos allowing the coffee to cool before 10am!  When I’m not riding the bus to work, I’m riding my bike.  The thermos goes in my backpack, with my change of clothes for the day.  So I also need my thermos to seal properly, to prevent leakage. 
So my thermos purchase was good consumption – I have saved countless dollars on my morning coffee, simply by purchasing a quality thermos to use for bringing my own. 
Bad consumption:
For Christmas last year, I visited my father in the South.  My gift-shopping had all been done well before the holiday, but I received last-minute news that my Aunt, Uncle, and their two sons would be joining us Christmas morning.  Fearing they would feel left out of the merriment as we all opened our gifts to one another, I embarked on a frenzied quest to find something for each of them to open. 
There was just enough time to order on Amazon and use the Super-Saver free shipping to get the package there before Christmas Eve.  So I began scouring the pages of jangle.net for something I thought they would like.  Settling on a DVD for one cousin, a book for the other, a fleece jacket for my uncle, and a nice cashmere shawl for my aunt (each item under $10), I made my way to the Amazon checkout.  Three of my items qualified for the Super-Saver shipping, but the shawl was coming from another store, and there were additional shipping & handling charges.  I noticed that shipping was free, if I purchased more than one shawl. 
I love the feel of cashmere.  And they had so many nice colors!  Perhaps I should get one for myself, as well?  I would save on shipping.  And there I was, convinced that I, too, should get a cashmere shawl for Christmas.  So I tacked another one to my order, and had all of the items shipped to my father’s house.
Christmas morning came and went, and we all enjoyed ourselves, and our gifts.  I folded my shawl neatly in my suitcase, and hung it carefully in the coat closet when I returned home.  And it’s been there ever since.  That’s right, I have never actually worn it.  Now, $10 really isn’t all that much money.  And, we can probably reduce that to $7, because I did save a few bucks on shipping.  But it was a wasted $7 that I look back upon with regret. 
This brings me back to why I want to track my material consumption.  The cashmere shawl disaster is just one example of frivolous spending gone wrong – I know there are many others.  Perhaps by actively monitoring the usage and usefulness of my purchases, or lack thereof, I will become more conscious of the long-term benefit before forking over the cash.
I think I’ll give it a shot, for a while anyway.  Keeping track of what I use might also help me identify things I can get rid of – we’re all looking to reduce the clutter in our lives, right?