Friday, June 20, 2014

but she ain't messin with no broke

So...writing about money and finances can be...kind of weird. Everyone's financial situation is so different, and I never want to be someone who thinks she's the next Dave Ramsey because she can find a penny, pick it up and all that day have good luck. Although when I find a quarter anywhere it's like finding gold. A quarter can buy a handful of Mike&Ikes and appease anarchist toddlers. I digress.

We are a single income family and Jake's job is 100% commission. Since starting his job, he has steadily increased in earning residuals and trails and will continue too. However, currently those residuals and trails aren't enough to cover our bills so we start each month at pretty much zero in his paycheck. And that gives me a mini panic attack at least once a week. Does that surprise anyone? Everyone shake their head no.

Now I'm all for living on love, but this lady also needs her dinero. I don't want to go into too much detail of our budget breakdown because that seems a little too personal for me, but in a nutshell our monthly goals are to be able to pay our bills, including our debt for my medical bills from my foot, put at least 10% of his paycheck into savings and have a little extra "fun" money. It's kind of a "well duh" budget plan.

Last year was the hardest financial year for us. I don't know why this is so embarrassing, but it's hard to admit. We had months where we could only pay our bills and had no money for food. (And we live a pretty modest life. Like Little Ceaser's and Netflix for date night kind of modest.) We had a month where we had to borrow $1000 from a family member. We sold furniture and jewelry to make ends meet.  One of the hardest things was that we really didn't have anything to cut out of the budget in order to save money. We didn't have a gym membership, I don't get my hair colored or nails done, we don't have expensive hobbies, we coupon for our groceries etc. We are a two car family now and after having been a one car family for most of our marriage, for us having two cars is a necessity so we drive the cheapest cars we can get. So our budget was kind of set in stone and we somehow had to find a way to make ends meet with things as they were.

Thankfully we've come along way since than and we've tried a bazillion creative budget strategies and we've finally found something that works really well for us. Like I said, everyone's financial situation is incredibly different and personal and what works for someone, wouldn't for someone else. But I thought I'd share incase in might be of use to anyone who's been in, or is in, a similar boat to us.

I present the financial fast.

So earlier in the year I was watching the TLC show Extreme Cheapskates while folding laundry on a Saturday night. (Like I expensive hobbies around these parts.) One of the people on the show talked about doing a financial fast (going without spending any money) for a week once a month. Since the shows title is extreme cheapskates he had some creative ideas to get money that week if he needed it (like raiding vacuums at car washes) but he could only spend money if he found it. Not out of his bank account.

This idea really stuck with me and as our financial situation became more critical we decided to give this a try, but modify it slightly for our family.

We realized that when we looked at were our money was going, we were doing tons of little trips to the store to pick up one or two things that we really did need, but we would end up spending and additional $10-25 dollars each trip on other item that weren't necessarily bad or totally not useful purchases, but still things that were not really needed or planned. On top of that we tended to be impulsive with little things like grabbing snacks on the go or fast food for a quick dinner.

We decided to do a financial fast every Monday through Friday evening, every week of the month. We could only spend money on Friday evening so that we could have a family date night (or a date night just for Jake and I) and then on Saturday. On Saturday we would prep for the upcoming week. We would go grocery shopping, fill the cars with gas, make sure we were set on diapers and miscellaneous things like cleaners or hygiene products that we would need that upcoming week. We would also buy one or two gift cards to places like Sonic or McDonald's with $5 each on them so that we could keep our tradition of getting a treat and going to the park or play place.

Our goal wasn't to make us feel restrained or like we were having a dramatic change in lifestyle, we just wanted our spending to be more purposeful and controlled. Because think about it. If you're going to the store three times a week and you're spending an additional $10-25 a week that totals to be anywhere between an additional $120 to $300 a month of lose spending. And that really adds up if you're on a tight budget.

It has worked SO well for us. We have made a few changes over the past 4 months of doing this. We realized that sometimes we didn't need to go shopping every Saturday, but that by say Thursday of the following week we need some stuff. So now we take an inventory of sorts on Saturday and see if we can go a few days more or if we need to go that day. So we do one "big" shopping trip a week. We still do gift cards for treats because we've found for us, it's better than cash because the money goes toward a specific thing that lose cash that can go toward anything. And if we know we have an event that week like a group date or something we decide ahead of time how much we'll spend and use cash for that as well. Like I said, we didn't/don't want to feel like we can't ever do anything fun or spontaneous, just for now we are really focusing on purposeful spending.We also started pulling $20 cash out each week (unless we haven't touched it from the previous week) for any "emergency" that comes up like medicine for one of the boys or a last minute birthday party or if we didn't plan the diaper count well enough.  I mean we are a family with young kids so if we need to spend money, obviously their welfare comes first, but for the most part we try really really hard to "fast" from any spending at all.

We don't have plan as to how long we'll do this, but it's kind of fun to have that challenge every week (nerd alert!) and it's super easy, there's no crazy "system" other than setting and maintaining our regular budget; it's really just about adjusting your mindset. It is really calming to feel like we're in control of our money and not the other way around. Being a single income, commission based paycheck family with kids is not what I thought we would ever be, but we are that, and you know you just gotta do what works for you.

And again, I'm not a financial guru but I thought I'd throw in my two cents. (Like the money pun?? :)) You can take it or leave it obviously, but if it helps then awesome. :)

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  1. i love this post, julia- i love your honesty and i love your ideas. we all struggle and i think this is a fabulous idea and plan! i could certainly use more scrimping and saving, and need to be better at it!

  2. James and I were just talking about doing a financial fast of some sort. I love your plan of action. We may have to adopt this soon.

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  4. I really love your honesty on this post. I hate being poor myself, but I do really love it has made me more aware of my spending habits. I've tracked and budgeted every expense that we've made since I was engaged and it is really eye-opening to see how the money gets spent.

    My husband and I have spending accounts that we allot a certain amount at the beginning of the month. That way, we decide ahead of time the amount we each get, but I don't have to track (or make Jason feel guilty about) every single expense. It's better than cash for us because I can't use cash on Amazon :) It works for us.

  5. Great post Julia! We are definitely trying to crack down on our budget as well - and it sounds like we have similar things eating up our money. Quick trips to the store and I'll admit it - dominos pizza on nights my husband works late and I am stuck at home with a sleeping child and no desire to cook. I like your plan - it sounds really manageable. We might just have to give it a try.

  6. this is RIGHT on the money! I really like this idea a ton. Thanks for sharing! I need more purpose when it comes to planning meals and spending $$$. Thank so much

  7. Great post! Do you have any tips on using coupons? Is it cheaper than just buying the store brand?

  8. Great idea Julia! I'll have to try that. I do follow Dave Ramsey with having cash in envelopes and that has helped but I know i can cut it back more. Whenever we go to the grocery store Liam wants a treat. The gift card is also a good idea.

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I really appreciate all of your thoughts and comments! They bring a smile to my face!