(Admit it: you read that title and made it rhyme.)
The BHE and I have talked about saving and budgeting and just managing our money better since, oh, the beginning of our relationship (we’re talking 2005, folks!). Sadly, as money is such a major factor in the average American’s life, it is something that ought to be regularly discussed with one’s significant other. Complete and open communication or any monetary goals will not be fulfilled.
In the almost-decade we have been together, we have managed to pay off cars and credit cards, buy one house for cash and then mortgage it to buy another, put me through grad school, and start a family. We don’t miss payments, we rarely charge anything, and our debt is pretty small compared to the average American family. We have one mortgage for two houses, one smallish car payment but three vehicles and two trailers, minimal credit card debt (that we haven’t added to since September), and my ridiculous student loans.
When we decided it was time for us to try to grow our family, there were many conversations about day care vs. one of us staying home to raise our children. No brainer: one of us stays home. At that time, we both made about the same amount of money per hour. Then I started grad school, switched jobs for a pay cut, and then got pregnant. No brainer: I would leave my low-paying, benefits-less job to stay home with our child once he or she was born.
The hard part would be adjusting our lifestyle to accommodate halving our income and adding a whole new person. Let me be honest here: we didn’t change a damned thing until that first electric bill after Angel Baby was born. The whole pregnancy, knowing we had 9 months to clean up our act and start really budgeting and saving, we were tossing out money left and right. Y’know, we HAD to have a whole new bedroom suite for the baby. And that bedroom needed completely remodeled before the baby was born. And we needed the matching car seat, stroller, pack’n’play, etc. (Thank you, Aunt Jan, for the pack’n’play!!)
That first electric bill was a doozy! We use cloth diapers, which means more loads of laundry. Lots more. We also had put in a dishwasher while I was pregnant. So there was even more electricity being used to clean things.
I’ve got another blog post in the works about our indoor laundry line. Stay tuned!
The BHE takes a quasi-voluntary layoff for 2-3 months every winter. Luckily, he receives unemployment benefits and has the peace of mind that comes with knowing he has a return-to-work date. Unluckily, those benefits change every year and can be so low it is almost comical. Almost.
With that uncertainty, and knowing he will only earn his regular pay 9-10 months of the year, budgeting is a necessity in our household. Ok, let’s be honest: budgeting is a necessity in every household.
Coincidental moment on our thoughtfully sought path through parenting: the day Angel Baby had her first solid food was the first day of the BHE’s layoff last year. Yay… adding one mouth to feed while subtracting regular income. Uff.
Third and final straw
We agreed to save X amount of dollars prior to the BHE starting his Winter 2015 layoff. In order to do so, we had to know where our money was going. Really, it is hard to say where you’ll start cutting back when you don’t know how much you’re spending.
I gathered all receipts I could for September 2014 and thought, “Huh, not too bad.” But that wasn’t the whole story. We needed to keep all receipts in one spot so that I could really and truly see what was what. October was a different story. Not bad, just a more complete story.
Without giving you too much, let’s just say we spent over $450 in October, $520 in November, and $760 in December. Ouch!
Where did it all go?
When I say “groceries,” I mean anything and everything bought at: Payless (Kroger), WalMart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Aldi’s, D&R Meat Market, and the like. So “groceries” can be food, alcohol, diapers, toilet paper, cat litter, candy, paper plates, etc.
Knowing that, it is understandable that our December total was so high. There were gifts for the nephews bought at Target, there was our annual Christmas party to supply, and of course more food than normal was bought to feed us through holidays and my birthday.
Still, unacceptable. Honestly, what in the hell are we doing with $450 or more in groceries?
I create meal plans. I do our grocery shopping on 2 (or 3) days during the month. Typically, I do one major shopping day of four or five stores at the beginning of the month. Then about two weeks later, I hit one or two stores to get more milk, eggs, and fresh produce. If there’s another trip before the month is out, I kick myself repeatedly as I go get what we need. We live in the middle of nowhere so factoring time and gas for each trip, you can understand why I don’t want to shop more than a couple days a month. Plus, everyone knows that you buy more than you intend to each time you go to the store; going multiple times during the month means multiple times you will spend too much. Stick to your lists (yeah, that thing you tend to leave on the kitchen counter).
Something needed to change if our monthly expenditures on groceries could fluctuate from $450 to $750 without us blinking an eye. Something really needed to change if I had no set limit for spending.
My two favorite R words: reading and research
Of all the books and articles, financial advice from experts to stay-at-home-mom bloggers sharing their experiences, I’d say the two most influential authors are Dave Ramsey and David Bach.
(If you would like to know the books I’ve read or at least see the authors who have influenced the way I look at and deal with money, here’s my shelf.
Both of these men are renowned financial advisors. Both have books and workshops read and attended by millions. In fact, if you haven’t read or attended something by either of these men, chances are you know someone who has. Ask your librarian to reserve a handful of their books for you.
One of the ways to budget and save that I’ve read about and talked to friends about is Dave Ramsey’s “envelope system.” I’d never tried it myself but it sounded (a) logical and (b) straight-forward…which is, in my humble opinion, the best way to deal with ANYTHING money-related.
One more try
For the month of January 2015, with the BHE on his layoff, I decided to keep on with the mental budget I’d set for us. I decided we could live comfortably with $400 for groceries and $100 for anything for the house. (The BHE spends his layoffs working harder at home than he ever does at work. Our 110+ years old house has been a major project that is still going.)
I did my shopping as I always do, but I would add on my smartphone the prices of the goods I would put in my cart. Then I kept a mental tally of what I spent at each store. At the end of January, I tallied up the number of days we went shopping, the number of stores we visited, and the amount of monies spent overall. We kept to our $100 house budget but went almost $120 over our $400 grocery budget. Not cool.
Read the next Thoughtfully Sought blog post to hear about February 2015.