It has been an adventure. The last twenty one days, while reading Power to Prosper, I did my very best to abstain from spending money on anything that wasn’t a necessity. I saved a good amount but when I tallied everything up at the end of the month, I got some startling results. More on that later in this post.
To start out on the fast, I reduced our weekly grocery and incidental budget to almost half of what it was previously. I made all purchases, except for gasoline, with cash. I wrote down every single thing I purchased down to a stick of gum. At times, digging through my purse to find my spending journal was annoying but I also made it into a bit of a game. I liked being able to list what I was spending and I liked keeping it organized into categories. I was able to literally see where our family was spending (and this past month, we spent a small fortune on take out . . . which is supposed to be eliminated with a financial fast but because my husband argued for me to keep it, I let it go . . .)
During the fast, I also sat down with my husband and wrote a budget. We knew what most bills cost us each month but had to guess at what we were actually spending on things like food, gas, and entertainment. Then,after keeping my spending journal for the month of May and looking over my hubby’s credit card statement, we sat down again and wrote in the actual bill amounts for the month. I was surprised. Even though we were saving a fair amount each month towards our children’s education, retirement, and vacation, we spent almost as much as we brought in during the month. What was more troubling to me was that our results came from a budgeted month where I had vowed not to spend on anything but food and medical expenses. (and if you read the above paragraph, we spent money on take out pizza).
To be completely honest, I did break the fast twice. One time, I bought my daughter new sneakers because her current pair was falling apart. Then, because I purchased my daughter a pair of sneakers, I bought my son a pair. I reasoned that what I give to one child I ought to give to the other (and I also knew he’d feel slighted if I didn’t also buy him a new pair of shoes). The second time I broke the fast, I did exactly what I said I would not do. I went into LOFT with my $15 coupon and bought a $15 tank top. Plus three other tanks and a pair of shorts. Lesson learned: rip up coupons. The only way to truly save money is not to spend any money at all. Who knows whether I will be able to abide by this wisdom all of the time . . . I am guessing it will be hard to pass up LOFT coupons come fall when I need warmer clothes. Then again,
what it really comes down to is deciding what my priorities are.
Many a gal wants to look good. I am no different. I like nice clothes. I like fashionable shoes and purses. And dangly earrings. I like to get my hair done.
I also want to send my children to college. Annabelle will likely start college in 13 years. Based on the math from one of my budgeting books, my daughter’s education will likely ring in at a minimum of $200,000 for those four years. By the time Levi starts college, just three years later, it will be at least another $200,000.
I also want to retire with my husband some day. And be able to afford to visit my children and hopefully, if we are so lucky, spend lots of time with our grandchildren.
And I have other financial goals. I want to run a successful business. I want to be able to travel with my family. I want to be able to celebrate the holidays. I want to be able to help my family, especially our parents as they enter their retirement years. I want to be able to help other people.
Of course, I don’t want to live like a monk. That’s not my goal. But I am rethinking our lifestyle and reviewing our budget to see places where I can save money or eliminate expenses.
For example, for the last six months, I have had a cleaning service visit our house twice a month. As someone who values a clean house (and when I say clean, I mean spotless), this has been a great help to me. The cleaners take care of major jobs like floor to ceiling dusting, vacuuming and mopping, bathrooms, and scrubbing the kitchen. In between visits, I spend about an hour each day picking up the house and keeping things neat. I fold laundry, take out the trash, do dishes. I still clean up spills and dirt that gets trampled into the house by muddy shoes. But I don’t stress as much as I used to because someone is helping me.
But the cleaning service is on the cutting board. I realize that the cost of our service is low for the area we live in: $80 per visit for a total of $160 each month. Still, if we clean our home ourselves, we’ll save $160 each month and over $1900 each year.
Another place in our budget that I am looking to cut back is on what I spend to have my hair cut and highlighted. This is an expense that I have previously refused to negotiate on because I like the girl who does my hair and my kids love having her cut their hair too. But, in order to afford her prices, I’ll need to save around $67 each month. Today I called around to price a cut and highlight. One salon quoted me a price that was $30 lower. I booked my next appointment with them. Later, another salon called me back and quoted me a price that was the same as what I previously paid. I explained my situation to the owner. I told her we’d just bought a house and I didn’t think I’d be able to afford her prices, and she surprised me by saying she would accept what I was able to pay. I booked my September appointment with her. As for my kids’ hair? Well, they both love getting their hair cut so we’re going to try somewhere new for them too. I have heard great things about Cartoon Cuts where a kids’ cut is $15 (which is less than half of what I paid to my previous gal).
Here are a few other ways I am trying to save money and cut our budget:
1. Cook my own meals. For the most part, we eat at home for every meal. My husband buys himself lunch three times a week and we are talking about having him pack lunch on those days as well. As a family, we eat out about every other month but we eat take out every week (pizza once or twice a week). If we can start ordering in only twice a month, we’d save about $60 each month.
2. Write a shopping list. I have a tendency to wander around whatever store I am at and find myself adding item after item that I hadn’t intended to buy but that I reasoned that I wanted and ought to bring home for one reason or another. When I bring a shopping list and make myself stick to it, I spend less. I also avoid the grocery store’s houseware and seasonal sections so that I don’t get tempted to stray from my list.
3. Buy in bulk. I joined Costco to purchase produce and meat. And let me tell you, if you become a Costco member, you must bring a list! If you do not bring a list, you will spend above and beyond what you save on product, meat and other bulk foods by purchasing items that you simply do not need.
4. Learn to say no. I have trouble saying no to people. I really have trouble saying no to my children, especially when it comes to their asking me to buy them a small gift here and there. While on the fast, I said no. Again and again. Both of my kids threw tantrums. Which made me think harder about the habits I am teaching them by never saying no. I want my kids to understand the value of money and hard work. So I made chore charts for each of them. They earn 10 cents a chore; chores include making their beds to brushing their teeth. I told them that if they do their chores, they can spend 2/3 of their earnings however they’d like. I am requiring them to save 1/3.
5. Do-it-yourself. We fired the exterminator and are now purchasing buy spray at Home Depot. We are also thinking about painting some of the rooms in our new house ourselves. My husband is replacing a sink. We are taking care of renting our current home ourselves and are not using a realtor or management company.
6. Avoid Target, Home Goods and T.J. Maxx and shopping centers. I am filling up my schedule with activities and avoiding shopping.
7. Finding activities that are free. This past month, my kids and I spent so much time at parks, on play dates, doing artwork, and dancing. I am planning to go to our town’s free summer concert this weekend and I will be sure to pack snacks from home. I also want to sign up for free library activities this summer which I’ll take Levi to. Annabelle is signed up for camp (which cost a small fortune), but will keep her busy and me too because I’ll be busy taking her to different camps and won’t have time to browse the racks at TJ Maxx.
8. Running my own business. In the last year, my photography business has performed well and I find that I work more and more. While I struggle to balance my work and home responsibilities, I find that when I am more involved with my work, my mind is focused and engaged. I don’t get bored and I don’t think about spending money. In fact, running my own business has made me more aware of what I truly need versus what I want. When it comes to breaking my business budget by purchasing the latest piece of equipment versus making do with what I have and saving for a quality piece that I know I will need down the road, I am able to stay focused on saving and being responsible so that I am able to have what I need down the road.
9. Picking up another job. I am considering taking on a yoga teaching position at our gym so that I can receive a free gym membership for our family. I love doing yoga and usually practice twice a week. If I were teach yoga twice each week, I’d earn money and save our family over a thousand dollars each year.
10. Spend less on travel. While this is a work in progress, and while our family values experiences, I think that we could enjoy travel on less money. One way to save more money on travel is to find more affordable vacation spots with lower weekly rent; we can rent places that include a kitchen so that we can eat in for our stay. We can also make do with a smaller, less expensive rental vehicle while we are traveling. Last, I think we can have a great time and remember the place we visited by taking photos and seeing the sites. There is no need to buy souvenirs.
11. Give meaningful gifts. It is hard for me to make peace with the idea of not giving gifts. For example, during the fast, I needed to purchase teacher gifts for my children’s preschool teachers. And I did. One way that I show my appreciation for other people is to give them things. In some cases, I know I can offer to spend time with a person, take them on a special outing, or make them something, but making this transition will be hard for me because I am not used to giving gifts in this way. I will have to think more on this, and even though I can reason that children (my own, my nieces and nephews, and my children’s friends) do not need more stuff, I have a hard time giving a second hand or homemade gift at birthdays and holidays. I would love to hear others’ feedback on saving money with gift giving. This is just a tough one for me.
Thinking back on my history as a saver and a spender, when I started spending more money after the birth of my second child, I did feel a bit happier. I learned that it was okay to take care of myself. I learned not to cringe when I spent money on something I wanted for my home or myself, whether it was a new bedspread or a new outfit. Of course, I can see now that my spending became somewhat irresponsible. In doing a financial fast and writing a budget as well as mapping out how our money is saved from month to month, I am able to see how my spending affects my husband’s and my goals. By spending less and saving more, I am hopeful that we’ll be able to reach our goals and enjoy the day to day. I am, however, a work in progress. Flawed I am. So, I am sure that I will have more to report in the coming months on how budgeting and not spending affects life as I know it. So far though, it hasn’t been so bad. In fact, I’d venture to say that it has felt better doing things this way.
Last I leave you with a few of my favorite photos and moments from the last twenty one days:
Annabelle dragged and then raced a toddler vehicle up and down the parking lot. So funny to see her stuff her five year old self into a one year old’s vehicle.
We attended my husband’s work picnic at a National’s baseball game. FREE! When a foul ball was hit just a few rows behind us, my husband’s co-worker passed it up to Levi. After the game, we wait outside of the player’s locker room and Tom Gorzelanny, a pitcher for the Nationals, signed our ball. What an amazing day! And did I mention that it was FREE!?!
Later in the week, my neighbor and friend Melissa showed the kids how to use water colors with fun items like salt and yarn to add texture different intensities of color. What a messy and fun afternoon for all five of us.
And then two weekends ago, a family friend hired me to photograph her son’s birthday party. I was happy to bring along my hubby and kids. I got to photograph the guests, the birthday boy (and a very fun cake smash too), and take pics of my kids too. A huge hit among all the kids of all ages was the water table. Annabelle and her brother spent the entire afternoon scooping water, splashing, and eventually getting into an all out water fight. Much much fun.
Ooh, one more thing. I don’t have a photograph to accompany this tidbit, but I am proud to tell you that I passed my Certified Professional Photographer exam. Next I submit my images to a panel of judges and I am crossing my fingers that I pass. This was a big deal for me. So glad I pushed through my fear and took the test. It feels good having passed the test. Now to jump through the next hoop.
I’m not sure when I will get back to write again. In the coming weeks, I plan to continue jotting down my expenses in my journal. I intend to do some menu planning. I will also be packing and getting ready for our big move next month. I leave you with this question: what is the number one way you save money each month?