Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tightening the belt, so to speak.

With all the talk of economic crisis (not that I talk about it much and my husband knows better by now) I was inspired today by a question posed on one of my favorite blogs. Cathy, AKA Noble Pig wondered what people have been doing to tighten the belt, economically speaking. I started to write a long winded response to her question, and then realized.... "wait! I have a blog of my own! I could use this as a topic! And if I throw in cute pictures of my kids that have nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with children finding joy no matter what, people might actually read the whole thing!" So that is exactly what I am going to do! Here we go! I think I will start with a picture!

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Mikaela playing "Duck duck" with bath toys.

So Owen and I started tightening the belt around 3 years ago. We were sinking and sinking fast trying to make it as a family in sunny, crazy expensive southern California. Every month we had to borrow at least part of our rent money and at least part of our food money. We were living off of our wic checks and our friends and families desires to not see us homeless. We had two babies (obviously the boys) and I wasn't working. Of course I wasn't working cause when we sat down and did the math it was actually loosing us $50 a month for me to continue to work instead of staying home with the boys. We factored in things like gas and car insurance for two cars, work wardrobes, child care, etc. We were very careful with our math. Even my dad, who has a masters in business finance said our numbers looked right. So here we were with about $1300 a month in income from Owen office job, give or take a few hundred for if he got to work a lot of overtime, and almost $1700 a month in expenses. Then we got the news that changed our lives. Owen was warned by his boss that he was gonna get laid off by the company some time in the next month or so cause they were changing the computer system they were using and that would mean they had one extra person on staff. As the least senior member of the team, he was the most likely to be on the chopping block. So we did what any family in our situation would do. We panicked and started sending out Owen's resume everywhere we could!

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Alexander with a spoon on his nose.

Just as we were loosing all hope (rent was due in two weeks and in our "sadness we had blown all our money on junk) Owen got a call that changed our lives. It was the US Army. They had seen his resume on Monster and wanted to talk to him about recruitment. They dazzled us with their talk of security and financial freedom and enlistment bonuses, and free health care. We were hooked. So we went out and cut off all of Owen's beautiful hair (no really wanna see?)
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See I told you it was beautiful. Anyways. I cut it all off and carefully preserved his braid. The next thing I knew he was off at basic training. That is when the crazy journey of us becoming a low consumption family began.

As an Army wife I have met all sorts of interesting people. Some of them are still in my life in some capacity (Internet relationships and such) and some have just faded into the past already. But along the way I have learned alot about living within your means.

Once Owen was done with all his training we started getting what I call real army paychecks. When they are in training you get things like separation pay and a bunch of other stuff you wont get once you are back together living under one roof. Once our pay had settled to normal we realized we had about $1700 a month to work with. The difference this time was that our housing was already covered, as were all of our basic utilities like water and electricity. (Yay army housing!) So how does a family of 3 (yes by this time we had mikaela!) live off of $1700 a month? Well first you make a little list. I don't do spread sheets cause all the little boxes make my head hurt. So instead I do this:

What we Have to pay:

Car payment: $200 a month
Car insurance: $100 a month
Star card: $30 a month
Life Insurance: $70 a month
Cell Phones: $150 a month
Lane Bryant card: $30 a month
Cable bill: $110 a month
Gas( for car): $160 a month
Food: $500 a month
Loans from Army: $100 a month

So then you add all that up and you get $1450 a month.
So then when you subtract that number from your pay, you get $250 a month left over. So then you can sit there and make a list of things you would Like each month, but don't need.....

A Date night: $100 a month
2 or 3 new DVDs: $50 a month
New clothes for kids(including shoes) $400 dollars twice a year.....
Yarn for me to knit/crochet with: $20- $100 a month
Books at the bookstore: $50 a month
fast food: $60 a month

So then you add all that up and you end up with $280 a month if it is not one of the two months were I have to buy new cloths, and I only buy $20 worth of yarn.... up to $760 if we had to buy clothes and I spent $100 that month on yarn....

So that is the reality list and the fantasy list. Most of the time what would happen is I would spend almost nothing on yarn and I would skip paying a bill for a month if it was a month that I had to buy clothes. Keep in mind that this is also before I had to start buying Mikaela's clothes.... I didn't have to buy her any clothes till she was a year old! Hooray for people loving to buy babies clothes!

Well I was going over this with a friend and she pointed out that almost $100 dollars a month of our food money was actually going to buying disposable diapers for Aeddon and Mikaela. She pointed out that if I switched to cloth diapers that I would have to spend $200 once but that after that I would be covered on diapers till Mikaela potty trained. I tried switching Aeddon, but he wanted nothing to do with it.... so Mikaela went to cloth and I started saving $50 a month on her diapers. After 4 months her diapers were paid for in disposables savings! Then my friend also pointed out that we lived on post! Why was Owen driving to work when we lived in a warm climate and he could ride his bike? So there went almost half of our gas money. Amazing how they wanted him to run less mindless errands that made him drive back and forth once he pointed out that he no longer had access to the van and that it would take him twice the time to run the errand cause he had to ride his bike! Now we were saving $50 a month on diapers and $80 a month on gas! That was $130 a month that was freed up!

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Aeddon in Daddies running shoes.

Then she asked me I was spending each month on foods I could make myself.... She went shopping with me and pointed out that I had just spent $100 on foods I could either make myself or live without! So there went almost another $100 off of my food bill! I was down another $100! $230 freed up so far! Another $10 a month when she pointed out that I didn't need both drier sheets and fabric softener.... so I was up another $10. Then she showed me Knitpicks.com. they sell quality knitting supplies (yarn too!) for very affordable prices. Twenty dollars worth of yarn became $10. $100 dollars worth of yarn became $50. And if I waited a month or so and bought $50 worth every few months instead of $10 here and there I didn't have to pay for shipping! As far as I was concerned it was like knitting/crocheting for free!

Then she looked at my cable bill one month and asked me why I had premium channels like HBO when I owned almost all of my favorite movies on DVD and that I watched those when I wanted to watch a movie and that I turned on HBO once a month if that. There went $30 off my cable bill. I went down to just enough cable to continue getting Noggin and Nicktoons. ( I was not giving up Avatar!)

So just by going over what I really needed and showing me ways to save money on things I was gonna buy anyways... My friend had helped me save $270 a month. I started paying off Debt that I had from the dark ages (anything pre-army).

Now the numbers on the paycheck and the numbers for the bills have changed with time.... but I learned a valuable lesson from my friend. See she was a stay at home mom to 5 girls and was getting by on one firefighters salary. She had to live within her means too. She had trashed her credit when she was younger and was under the mistaken impression that she was only successful in life if she had a big house and a nice car and to much stuff to fit in that nice house and car. So she had to live within her means, or run the risk of not being able to do the things that really mattered, like keeping a roof over her girls heads or feed those girls.

So in the midst of this economic crisis.... I am calm. I have very little to worry about. The army is not going to lay Owen off. He is a medic and he will continue to be needed wether we are in a war or not. As long as he is in the army we will not have to worry about affording a place to live, the army will not allow us to be homeless. I don't have to worry about us going hungry. The army will not let us starve. There are families in the army who cant afford food. They eat at the Dining facilities with the single soldiers. Everything else is a luxury. One that we can live without if we have to. If the generations who came before us survived without TVs and cars and fancy cameras and 35 pairs of shoes, then so can we. We don't have a house of our own to lose. We could lose our car I guess... but Owen still has his bike, and the house we live in is close to the grocery store. Close enough to walk. Mine and Owens parents have lived within their means. And if, when they grow to old to work, they cant afford to live on their own cause the economy has crashed.... well then Owen will add them to his list of dependents and we will find a place to put them in our home. We will get by. I refuse to believe that the people of 1 BC were better able to cope than I am.

Take that, Plummeting economy!
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