Monday, November 14, 2011

Money Monday: Decrease Money Going Out?

The famous Dr. Phil has said, "You don't solve money problems with money."  In other words, it's a behavior problem, not an income problem.  Easier to say when he's facing a couple with 5 financed cars for 2 drivers, a monthly movie late fee bill, and restaurant and beauty salon habits to astound.  But I know it's true for us, too. 

As I've said before, there is a long list of things for which we don't spend that financial gurus will list as possible expenditures to reduce or eliminate:
  • Gym memberships
  • Car payments
  • Cable TV
  • Theater movies, concerts, etc.
  • DVD subscription services
  • Salon hair care
  • Regular restaurant and fast food meals
  • Daily/weekly Coffee shop visits
  • Expensive cuts of meat
  • Boxed cereal
  • Vacations

We have always limited spending on
  • Newspaper and magazines
  • Soda, beer, ice cream, packaged snacks...
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Kids' activities
  • Gifts

But it doesn't matter, something MORE has got to change.  

When looking at our list of bills, we've considered cutting cell phones.  I know I grew up fine without, but I just can't talk myself into giving up that security blanket.  We don't provide phones until the kids are of driving age, or about that age and in activities so that it works best for us if we can contact them.  I feel better that if a new driver is on our semi-rural roads, we provide a way so they can call if they have a problem.  (When they get out of school, they pay for their own.)  
Verizon's family plan is about as economical as it gets, especially since their network is the only one with consistent reception in our geographical area.  We have only basic phones, no smart phones with data plans. I do think I will decrease our amount of available minutes, so hopefully cut a little more from the bill.

We believe in tithing/charitable giving, and even though I admit to struggling with follow-through occasionally, try not to look at that as "optional," or "eliminatable."

Other expenses are pretty necessary... Water, garbage, electricity, insurances, and the house...  
The house.  Right now the mortgage payment, including taxes and insurance, is over 35% of our income.  This is about the amount that's recommended for all housing expenses, including utilities.  But I can't change that right now either.  Our banker is watching rates to see if they fall low enough to warrant refinancing.  

Soccer clothes double as costumes for
recent church Harvest Carnival.  All clothes
& even the princess' shoes are from Goodwill
This leaves the flexible items (food, gas, clothing, sports/recreation, auto and home repairs and improvements, gifts) with a too-small portion of our income to share.  We don't drive more than necessary, for the most part, and we buy gas through Costco or the discount system with our local supermarket.  (Our store purchases earn us up to 10 cents off each gallon.) 

The kids love to find bargains at Goodwill and other second-hand stores, so our clothing expenses are low.  Shoes can add up, but we try to limit the expense there, too, shopping for bargains, and only buying shoes to cover basic need.                                                                                                                                                                          

Gift giving is a tough one, as I am a giver.  Our kids have always received one Santa gift and one parent gift (usually a book or two) at Christmas.  I don't need to spend a lot, but I really do like to be able to give each person a gift they'll especially love.  Even making gifts usually costs something... and multiplied times 10 family members... Well, you can do the math.                                                                                           

We cut sports to school-sponsored choices only a few years ago, and have always limited the kids to usually one sport, occasionally 2, per year for family-life's sake. 
We pay the kids' school sports fees, but this year, they have taken on paying for their own equipment and shoes.  They also pay for activities, like church retreats.   Their money comes from jobs or birthday gifts.

Pet expenses are difficult this year, too.  We're lengthening the span between vet visits and looking for less expensive ways to get them their essential vaccinations and to keep fleas under control.  Thankfully, they're a very healthy lot.  We have too many, but they've been here so long, I don't feel it'd be responsible or in the animals' best interests to try to find them new homes at this point.  They don't have the cheapest food, but not nearly the most expensive either.  I try to weigh nutrition and cost to strike the best balance. 

Now we're down to the people-food and household supplies.  We buy about half the overall amount of meat we used to, and a small fraction of the amount of beef.   We rarely buy ice cream any more.  I'm sure there are a few treats we grab now and then that could be cut out.  We buy cleaning supplies in bulk, and often use the cleaners that come in concentrate form, so get diluted and a little lasts a long time.

A difficult thing for me to do was suspend our Full Circle Farm membership.  Even though the quality and freshness of the fruits and vegetables were top notch, and it was fun to try new veggies, we weren't getting the quantity of things we needed for the money we were spending.  For $42 a week, I was getting a smattering of things meant to be in 'family-size' quantities, but more suitable for 4 than for 9.   I could customize my order, but even doubling some things while eliminating others was still not meeting our needs in the right ways.  Pieces of fruit delivered in 4 or 5-piece lots was laughable here.  
Because of the smallish quantities of new-to-us items, I was letting things go too long before finding the right recipe that would stretch them for us, so they'd deteriorate. 

It's not quite as bad as last year,
when the power was out.
This leads me to a problem that contributes to our financial struggles, which is waste.  We're cracking down on lights and bathroom fans left on, and too much water use.  We have the thermostat set so the heat doesn't come on until the house temp drops below 67 degrees.  
This is not a popular level, but everyone is acclimating and learning to wear socks and sweatshirts.  

Sad, embarrassing, and GROSS
We still have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to uneaten leftovers and odds and ends of produce.  Things seem to get shoved to the back even in our counter-depth fridges.  Paper and plastic goods, like paper towels, napkins, ZipLoc bags, foil, and plastic wrap, are another issue... Too many used and going into the garbage at too fast a rate.  

I don't think these steps I've discussed will make up for our budget deficit, but pennies count now, and every little effort can help.  I don't think I've helped anyone discover any new big ideas with this series, and I know I don't feel I've found our answer yet.  If I do... I promise to share.
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