Friday, August 31, 2012

Budget Blues (How We Save Money)

The last couple months have wreaked havoc on our checkbook.  Without going into details, suffice to say we majorly have to tighten up the spending, and I made a silent vow to not take anything out of savings the next few months.  (Or else, we won't be having Christmas.)  After paying bills and balancing the checkbook this morning, I was stressed and depressed to find out we had $350 to last the until the end of the month that hasn't even started yet.  And I haven't even bought groceries for the month.  Not to mention the gas Paul will need to get to work.
So I grabbed the ol' list and started crossing off things that I thought we could get by without until the end of next month.  Some were easy - like matching baskets to hold crayons and colored pencils (rather than the mismatched cardboard boxes I'm using), but some made me grit my teeth - like disposable diapers.  I used just over half a box last month.  Surely I can use just under half a box for this month. And I'm pretty sure we can live without soy sauce and sliced cheese.
Not that we can't take money from savings (I should be grateful we even have a savings account!), but just that I feel panicky if it drops under a certain amount.  A vehicle or appliance breakdown would wipe us out.
I think some people think Paul makes lots of money at his job.  He makes decent money for a factory job, but it doesn't afford us to a life of ease, by any means.  We can afford what we have by careful spending and going without some things.
Every time I see an article with a title such as "The Best Ways to Save Money," I always eagerly read it.  And it's the same old tips that everyone knows.  "Give up Starbucks, make your coffee at home."  "Take your lunch to work."  "Check books out from the library instead of buying them."  Duh.  Seriously.  How about some tips for real people that already and have always done these things?
So I came up with my own list of ways to save money.  Some of them are in those articles.  But I'll take them a step further, and show you how we save.  And spew my opinions upon you.  (You were warned.)
Ditch movie rentals.  First we ditched the movie store for Netflix.  Then we ditched Netflix.  It wasn't worth the $8 a month we were spending on it.  We own probably over 50 children's videos, and twice that many grown up movies.  If we can't find anything to watch in that collection, we need to find something else to do.  We also found that there the access to profane movies and TV shows was a temptation on Netflix.  And by saving the monthly subscriptions, we have enough money to buy the [very occasional] movie that we think is good enough to add to our collection.  (We do use Redbox if we want to watch a recent movie that we don't think is worth buying.)
Stop eating out.  I realize that sometimes you have to eat out.  Even as much of a cheapskate as I am, I am not dedicated enough to pack a lunch when there's no avoiding being out over lunch, nor am I stoic enough to endure 45 minutes of whining meltdowns because my kids are hungry.  We do eat out, but when we do it, the boys and I can eat for $3 plus tax.  A dollar hamburger for each of us, and water to drink.  My husband is not quite on board with the dollar hamburger, and when he comes with us, the total more than doubles.  (Part of this is because when Daddy goes with us, it's a treat, and we get french fries, too! :) )  But even if you stick to the dollar menu, eating out just three times a week can add up to $30 a month!  Now, this is not to say we never eat out.  I think we average maybe 2-3 meals out a month.  And we splurge for special occasions, and usually don't cheapskate it for those special times.
Get rid of cable/satellite.  You see advice to cut back to the basic service to save money.  But why not ditch it altogether?  A lot of people don't realize that since over-the-air TV went digital a few years back, many stations have two stations, if not more.  With just "rabbit ear" antennas, we can pick up nearly 20 stations with little to no adjusting. Seriously - why would you need more than that?  And really, do you even need more than one?  As long as you can get the news in an emergency, I'd call that enough.
Stay out of WalMart!  If you know me at all, you know of my disdain for this place.  I'll admit, with their "price comps," it is possible to save money by shopping at WalMart.  But only if you stick to your list. WalMart preys on people that have no willpower.  Even I am not immune to it.  How many times do you go in for your regular groceries, and come out with something you didn't need?  If your kids don't need new clothes, stay out of the kids section!  If you don't need new throw pillows, don't browse the home goods section!  If you're not looking for a print cartridge, stay out of the electronics!  Get in, get your stuff, get out.  I don't usually let Paul go with me, because I am much better at sticking to my list if he's not there browsing while I shop.  Last month's splurge: a $1.74 flyswatter.  This month's:  a $2.22 cube of Post-Its.  I justify my splurges if they are something I will use and are less than about $4.
Quit buying processed food.  We buy a lot of pasta.  And rice.  They may not be the best for you, but they're better for you than the pre-packaged "just add water" rice and noodle packets.  A packet or Knorrs noodles may only be $1, but it doesn't even feed a whole family one meal.  Meanwhile, that same $1 can buy a pound of pasta, which you can add a little butter and spices to, and you have enough for 4 meals.  Not to mention it's so much healthier for you.  And do I even need to mention how much a soda habit costs?
Your kids don't need as much as you think they do.  This is probably the hardest one.  It is super hard to tell my kids no.  We went to the fair this summer, and had to tell the boys they couldn't ride the rides.  (Tickets were $3.50 each.)  Seeing their tears hurt.  But they got over it, and by the next week didn't even remember.  You may say, "I don't want my child to feel deprived."  But they can't feel deprived if they don't first feel entitled.  I heard somewhere that kids have so much not because kids want so much, but because parents want them to have so much.
Since my little sister moved to Africa, I think I've become more aware of how much our kids (and all kids in our country) have, and don't even realize or appreciate.  In her first letter to the boys, Carlsie told them about how the children there don't have any toys, and they make cars and trucks to play with out of sticks, rocks, and trash they find.  Meanwhile, my boys have 6 drawers and 2 shelves full of toys, and yet they ask for more.  Do they really need more?  If we happen to end up passing some toys in the store (and we always do - strategic marketing), I always tell them no. They may whine at the time, but they forget about it by the time we're home. If I go shopping without them, and I want to get them a "treat" so they know I was thinking about them, they get special fruit (like berries), or maybe chocolate milk - not a toy.  I have to tell them no when they ask for those off-season raspberries that cost $5 for a half-pint, when apples are $1.29/lb, and explain to them why we're going to get the apples.  My kids will grow up to appreciate the things they have, be responsible with money, and not feel like they are entitled to something just because they want it at the moment.
Internet on your phone.  Do you really need it?  How much is it costing you versus how much you need it?  Need it, not use it.  Facebooking on your phone is not a need.  We've got internet at our home, and whereas it would be nice sometimes to be able to look up price comparisons or merchandise reviews when you're in the store, is it worth the $30 or $40 more each month?  Or is it just taking your time and attention away from something more important, like paying attention to your kids?
Stay home.  I don't like going places.  Partly it's laziness - wrangling 3 kids on my own?  Pass.  Let's just stay home in our pajamas instead.  Partly it's the cost of fuel.  Seriously.  With gas prices what they are, you're talking at least $10 in gas just to get out of town.  But mostly if I'm out shopping, even if I'm just looking and not spending, it makes me feel not content with what I have (which in the light of what some get by with, is a lot).  Which leads to......
If you don't need it, don't buy it (i.e. self denial/self control).  Dave Ramsey says, "A sale is not an emergency."  No matter how much of a steal it is, if it's going to make you come up short before the next payday, you don't need it right now.  We've lived in this house 7 years, and I still don't have curtains in any room except the bedrooms.  We have blinds on all the windows, so the neighbors can't see in.  I really want some nice deck furniture, but even on sale it's too big of an expenditure for something that we don't need.  We've got a picnic table that Paul's dad made out of scrap lumber on the deck.  I want matching lamps and end tables in the living room.  But I've got a coffee table on one end, and an end table on the other, and a lamp with a defunct shade.  It works.  Even though it's not what I really want, these things work for now.  My house may not be the most beautiful, but my checkbook looks pretty good.  Another Dave Ramsey quote:  "Live like no one else, so that later, you can live like no one else."  Someday, if we stay on track and keep things tight, someday, I won't have to think so hard about every cent we spend.  You'd better believe that the instant this house is paid off, I am using the money on some serious face-lifting on this house.
And I do realize that if we put all the money we've spent in the last year or two on say, movies, together, I would have enough money to buy myself curtains.  But I also believe that sometimes you have to let go and splurge on something unnecessary (within reason, usually under $20).  Paul works hard for the money he brings home, so when he wants something, I try to make sure he gets it.  If you stay absolutely uptight, everything becomes about money, and that can not be good on your marriage.
So there you have it.  This is how I save money.  Not by couponing or comping, but by common sense.

(And thus ends the first installment of my overly opinionated posts.)
(And apparently my opinions are very long-winded!)


Carrie Roer said...

Great tips! We're in the same boat as you. Christian school teachers sure don't make much... Last spring Rocky and I sat down and really looked hard at things and budgeted like crazy. We've been trying to do it before each month starts (oops, today's September already...). The only "luxury" we keep is internet at home. Rocky and I both do a lot of work from home, and then any tv we want to watch we can pretty much find online. :) Blessings to you as you cut and chop and save! You're not alone... Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else :)

Rachel said...

Obviously we splurge on the home internet as well. It is SO expensive in the country ($45 a month for the "basic" speed), and every couple months I have a conversation with myself about whether it's worth it. But it's one of those things that Paul really likes having, and it's his money paying for it. (Not that I don't enjoy it, but I'm enough of a cheapskate that if it was just me, we'd do without.)

The Shupaloops said...

I love it that you are honest about how and what works for you. We feel like we are pretty conservative, but target gets me every time. Must stay away! Thankfully I have a husband who budgets ev-er-y-thing, so that helps. I always like to see what other people's wants and needs are, thanks for the post!

Scrat on Speed said...

"But they can't feel deprived if they don't first feel entitled." Should have followed that up with, "Otherwise, they'd just grow up to be Democrats." (c:

Doug or Janice Rhodes said...

Yeah for you guys.... I well remember having 50 cents left after paying bills..and NO savings account..every month when the kids were little. Not much better now, but the Lord provides real needs. And sometimes, He will allow the savings account to dwindle just to see IF WE ARE REALLY TRUSTING HIM!!!OUCH! Life is good because God is good.