If you read or listen to the “experts,” I’m sure you’ve learned about the simple ways to spend less…cut out Starbucks, get rid of cable, stop eating out. But what happens when you’ve already done these things and you STILL can’t make ends meet? Here’s what this momma did when there seemed to be no more places to make the cuts.
A long time ago, I tried to cut back. Actually, I did cut back. I didn’t hit the drive-thru as often, we scaled back our cable bill, I stopped buying expensive groceries, no more Sunday paper. I gave considerable thought before spending money on anything…well, most of the time. But my budget still didn’t balance. We were spending too much. Our bills too often out-weighed our income. We lived on what I thought, at the time, was a very tight, no-frills budget. Ever listen to one of those financial experts on TV list off all the extras you could cut from your monthly spending? I listened…and wow, was I discouraged. We had already done everything on the list.
It seemed hopeless.
Have you been there? Are you there now? Struggling? Skimping? Tired of making so many decisions based on money? That was me. Truth be told, it’s still me! We’ve made some big, and not so big, changes to how we look at money. And we’ve made some huge improvements. We still have a ways to go. We are, as they say, a work in progress.
We have a big family, and at the time, I didn’t want to go back to work. So I picked up jobs here and there…my thinking was that we simply needed to bring in more money.
There was no way we could spend less! Eventually, I got a part-time office job…20 hours a week while the kids are at school. The following year, my husband’s side business had an exceptionally good year–almost more work than he could handle. We were feeling pretty good. We also had a little extra income from taking care of my aging mother. We started budgeting, paying off some debt, cut up our two credit cards, even saved up a small emergency fund. But we were still living paycheck to paycheck.
How was this possible? We were making more money, but things were still tight.
I chalked it up to rising gas prices, growing teenage boys (who needed more everything), bigger grocery list…it was easy to find ‘reasons.’
And then our income took a huge hit. We no longer were providing care for my mother, and my husband’s business dropped to about half of what it was the year before.
It put a strain on our marriage. I mean, it seriously took its toll on us. Money was super tight. My husband felt like a failure…even though the loss in business wasn’t his fault, he took it personally. And a defeated attitude made it difficult to go out and round up more work. And I was resentful. It was hard not to blame him for our financial mess–it was wrong, and I know that now. Instead of being supportive and encouraging, I felt betrayed and insecure.
It became a cyclical problem.
It was a tough year. Our yearly income took about a $20,000 hit.
How could we possibly manage? If you’ve ever been there, you know the knot in your stomach every time you think about finances.
I didn’t think there were any other places to make cuts in our budget.
And then I was challenged to find more, to look more closely.
We printed out our bank statements and started crossing things out and making some hard decisions.
Looking back, I’m still amazed at how much less we are living on. And honestly, none of us ‘suffered’ for it, and we didn’t feel like we had. You can do the same thing! You can make some small changes that’ll have big results!
So what exactly did we do differently?
If it wasn’t a necessity, we took a very careful look at whether or not we would spend the money. Here are the places we made those big changes…
I love clothes, and while my taste isn’t super expensive, I don’t buy clothes at Walmart either. And same with my boys. They like the typical, mall-store and athletic brands. In the past, if I had a coupon or there was a good deal on the clearance rack, I justified buying something because it was only a few dollars. NO MORE!!!! If it is not something we truly need, I simply don’t buy it. If it’s something needed, we put a limit on the amount. Biggest expense for us is sneakers and sports shoes for my boys. WOW!! Crazy expensive! But we give them a price limit…and anything over that amount they have to chip in their own money. At first I kinda missed shopping. Do you love to shop? The hunt for a bargain? That feeling of finding just the right thing? Oh yeah. I can spend a whole day at the mall! But it’s gotten easier and honestly, if I shop now, I feel a little guilty spending money on something not really needed.
Do you love Target? Yep. Me too! The very first time I was in one, I spent 2 hours wandering around and filling up my cart with all those fun goodies I hadn’t seen anywhere else. And yeah, I got some needed items too. But I remember finding this cute little rubber duck bathroom set…the shower curtain, the waste basket, the toothbrush holder…so cute!! Wouldn’t that make an adorable bathroom for the kids? Oh, I’ve picked up sooo many not-needed things over the years. Isn’t it easy?!? And I do go to Target to buy other things…I can get great deals on dog food, grocery items, shampoo…I can stack those coupons and cartwheels with the best of them! But what I realized was I was getting way more than I needed to, just because I was there in the store!
Hmmm…maybe we need to simply not go in the store so often! I know, it’s so hard! And when we go in, we need a list! Yes, a list that we will not stray from. Be strong!
Then there are the warehouse stores….BJ’s, Costco, Sams…mmmm, yeah. I love those stores. I can save so much by buying in bulk. And I do have a big family, so it’s not like those 6 pound packages of cheese go to waste! Again, this is about having a list and sticking to it. I do have a membership at Sam’s. And every year I take a serious look at what I use it for and weigh that against the cost of a membership. For now, it’s still a wise choice…we get certain things there, including gas. That savings outweighs the cost every year. By the way…one great tip for shopping in any of those stores? Don’t take a cart! If you can’t carry it, you can’t buy it.
We live out in the country…not too far out, but we pretty much figure it takes about 20 minutes to get to basically anywhere. Riding bikes or walking instead of driving…yeah, not really doable. But what I could do was combine my errands so i make one trip on one day instead of 3 trips over 3 days. It does mean a little extra planning, and that I need a bigger block of time to get things done, but it has definitely helped save on how often I get gas.
I also get gas whenever I’m near Sam’s since that’s the one store we have a membership to. Choose whatever gas station has the best price. If you can save 50 cents or a dollar every time you fill up, over the course of a year that adds up!
There’s another perk to combining those errands…this will save you time! And that old saying that time is money is so true! I’m pretty sure that extra time isn’t going to be spent at work actually earning a paycheck (although if you have an at-home business it might!) but having extra time spills over into all sorts of areas!! Extra time means getting things done! More time to cook…cheaper than take-out; more time to be organized…cheaper than buying an item again that you can’t find; more time to take care of yourself…cheaper than medication or doctor visits. See what I mean? this is awesome!
This is a big one! The first switch I made was to shop at Aldi. I live in the Northeast, where we have Wegmans. If you know Wegmans, you know shopping there is more of an experience. The store is awesome…one of the best in the country. But what happens when I shop there? Ohhhhh it’s so easy to buy their yummy baked goods, their beautiful produce, their prepared foods! And they carry EVERYTHING! They actually aren’t high-priced compared to other grocery stores, but next to Aldi…well, I couldn’t believe the difference in the prices. I’ve grown to love Aldi, by the way. And I keep finding more and more things to love! So buying groceries at a MUCH cheaper price was key.
It’s not just where you shop, but what you shop for. I cut out so many unnecessary foods and beverages! Soda, cookies, chips, crackers…I began to look at food in a totally different way. No longer was it about what simply tasted good, but rather was it serving a purpose other than enjoyment. Let’s face it, soda has no nutritional value at all. So why buy it? Well, it tastes good. Yep, that’s it. (And yes, I understand that caffeine will help a headache, and ginger ale or coke will settle a stomach…but in general, do we NEED soda?) So I cut out most of that ‘stuff’ that we really don’t need. I do pick up those things once in awhile, for a movie night or for fun. We all love our ice cream sundae nights, too!
Besides cutting out the non-nutritional stuff, I’ve cut out the expensive foods too. Cheap does not equal poor quality! Apples and bananas and grapes are cheaper than melons and grapefruit. Chicken and hamburger are super versatile (they must be, cuz my family never complains of always eating them!) and cheaper than steak. Frozen fish fillets like whitefish are cheaper than salmon. You get the idea. Change up your grocery list and you will be amazed at how much less money you’ll spend!
This one is a little more obvious, and if you’re on a tight budget you may have cut way down on this already. But here are my 2 cents worth anyway. There are so many ways to have really great experiences, and they truly can be advantageous for your children. But does that mean that taking a vacation is more beneficial than playing in the yard? Are my kids suffering because they haven’t done or seen some of the things their peers have? Instead of going to the movies, we’ll just rent one and make some yummy food. Instead of going to play mini golf, we’ll go to the beach with a picnic lunch and Kan Jam. There are plenty of fun things to do, and if money wasn’t tight (and hopefully one day it won’t be!) there are lots of places I’d love to take my family. But for now, I can be confident knowing that my kids are better off with the simple things over parents who are stressed with overwhelming debt. And y’know what? I think my kids are all turning out pretty well.
I don’t know about you, but as hard as it was to make these serious cuts into our budget, the feeling of having better control over our finances and knowing we are paying off debt far outweighs the dread each month as the bills come in. So if you’re ready to make some positive changes in your finances, this is a great place to start. Which one of these areas are you going to tackle first? Or maybe you’re all in, determined to start making a difference today. You can do this! I am! So can you!
And if you need some encouragement to get started, or stay on track, please get in touch with me. Leave a comment, or send me an email. I am here to help you!