It’s not fun being broke. Believe me, I’m there.
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I let my four year enlistment in the Army end without a reup because we were dual military and I didn’t want to have both of us deployed and separated from our children at once. We wanted someone to be there, to be steady. As they got older we started to think about me working again and by that point I really hated the idea. I don’t know if it’s because my own mom had to work two jobs for most of my life or what, but I want nothing more to be a stay at home mom and take care of my family and just be here. There was also the little detail that even if I started working 40 hours a week at $12 dollars an hour we would have barely have enough money to cover daycare and gas, let alone the whole new car we’d have to drive.
Back then the kids were both still under three and my husband had rotating shifts at work. When you’re switching between night shift and day shift, having a spouse who works nights to save on childcare cost isn’t much help. It was just easier for me to stay at home. So I started writing. I’ve loved everything fiction for years, I’ve written for years as well, but it’s not exactly something that you make a lot of money from and though I discovered that I enjoyed it, and even felt I had a talent for it, it wasn’t going to pay any bills. Nothing in our life changed much.
Let’s fast-forward. We move half way across the country. The children grow up a little, we acquire a couple of pets, and the husband has a whole new job. We discover that we need another vehicle. The car’s starting to show some real wear and tear, packing for vacations is nearly impossible and we can’t bring our dog with us. We look at the finances and think: yeah, we can afford a car. It’ll be a little tight, we’ll have to scrimp and save put a nice sized down payment on it, have a loan for a few years but getting one new will assure us there are no problems with it and we will have the warranty in case anything does go wrong. That’s where we are now and let me tell you, it’s harder than we thought.
We decided to go with a minivan, probably the cheapest one on the market too, but it’s new and it’s ours and we needed it. We’ve been limited to a single sedan for the entire ten years we’ve been together (excluding the time that neither of us had a car because we lived in the barracks) and it was definitely time for a new one.
The problem with that? Insurance has gone up and I haven’t made a car payment since my seven year old was 6 months old. I’m getting overwhelmed and worried and frustrated. But there’s one thing that’s saved my life: Budgeting. I can’t, at all, put enough stress on the importance of budgeting.
That’s what I want to talk to you about. The ways that we can survive on what we have, without going under.
1. How much are your bills?
When we sat down to figure out what we’d need to do to be able to afford a car and still live, we looked at what we were spending our money on each month. We have always made it a habit of paying our bills first thing, even when they’re due a week into payday… and that’s served us really well. Take a look at the bills that you pay every month and figure out how much money you’re actually spending. I realized that I had completely forgotten that an Audible subscription was coming out every month to the tune of $20. Now, I’m not saying you have to cut all of these out: Just take a moment to look only at the ones that you NEED. Rent, food, electricity, insurance, car payment… the things that are necessary. See how much those things actually cost and you might be surprised by the leftover number. That’s the amount of money you’re spending on extras in a month. (Mine was something to the tune of 800 bucks, talk about a kick in the stomach!)
2. Don’t forget to have fun!
I’m a firm believer in entertainment. If you spend all day counting your pennies but you don’t have any fun in life, what’s the point of that? I told my husband when we were talking about buying a new car: “I’d rather only have one car and have to rely on that for transportation than be miserable and never do anything fun anymore.” I feel that, for us, I want to teach my children that life needs to be enjoyed and if we can’t do that is the cost really worth it? So we still rent movies from Redbox and we have Netflix and Hulu. My husband and I have a lot of good memories watching television and discussing the characters and plot in the things we watch regularly. Plus, we love watching movies as a family together. America’s Funniest Home Video’s is one of our favorite shows. We also both love to read and have promised that if the kids want a book, or if we see one we want, that it will always take a priority in our extra spending cash.
So if you’re a family that hikes, goes surfing, plays video games, or loves music: Budget that in, because those things are important too.
3. Meal planning is a life saver.
So now you’ve seen how much money you’re wasting, you’ve added up your bills and you’re wondering: “Why am I driving to the grocery store every day, or picking up dinner at the last minute three times a week?” It’s because you’re a busy person with a life and a job and important things that you need to take care of, and you’re not setting aside time to plan your meals. I can’t believe how much money I started saving when I started sitting down once a week and meal planning. The extra benefits? You use less gas, you’re eating healthier, and seeing the looks on your families faces when they’re enjoying a meal you’ve prepared from scratch is pretty much an awesome mood boost.
4. Leftover Money. Now, if you have any leftover money after all of that, you have to decide what to do with it. I don’t have any advice here, though I can tell you what I do. Most of it goes to pay off credit cards. Sometimes it’s only fifty dollars a month, sometimes it’s more. We also try to put a little into savings and stashing some into a retirement or college fund is a good idea too. Every once is a while it’s nice to splurge and get something you want but don’t need, or go on that weekend trip you can’t usually afford but you’ve been saving for.
I try to do my best to give my family a good quality of life, despite the money that we do or don’t have. I also try to do what’s best for me as well. One of the big questions I get asked is, if we’re so broke all the time, why don’t I just go back to work? And I could do that, I could join the military again and have my sister-in-law come and live with us and take care of the children while we’re both away. But I made a decision, one that was right for me and my family a long time ago. With my husband being gone 200 days out of the year, it still happens to be the right decision for us. I haven’t really been away from my children for more than a quick vacation. I sacrificed working for them years ago, knowing that my husband had to leave, and they shouldn’t be without both parents. That’s still true today because for me that extra money I would make isn’t worth it.
But that’s MY decision. I don’t know your life, I don’t know your circumstance, I don’t know you or your spouse, or your kids so I don’t know what’s right for you. Only you can know that. And don’t forget it, ok?