16 November 2012

Finances: Wants & needs

This is probably going to ruffle some feathers, but I'm not going to apologize. There are a lot of people who complain about their finances. There are very few people who take a good hard look at what they spend their money on, and weigh what they want against what they need.

I would challenge you to set a time for yourself, say two months, and cut everything down to the bone. Then watch how much money you save. I did this with my family while we adjusted to being a single income household. This is what we figured out:

We needed food. We didn't need to eat expensively. For awhile there we didn't eat out at all, and we still only go out for special occasions. DH packed his lunch to work, I made everything I used to buy pre-made, there was no snack food, we had "meatless" dinners a couple times a week and another meal where the meat was always hot dogs (which are actually quite versatile). I still buy generic instead of brand names of just about everything. Organic, all-natural, free range, grass fed whatever didn't get bought unless it was on sale for less than its non-PC counterpart.

We needed water. We didn't need a lot of the things we were drinking. DH gave up his soda habit, I gave up bottled water and Starbucks, the kids got powdered milk instead of juice drinks.

We needed shelter. There wasn't a lot we could trim here. We couldn't sell our house and downsize even if we wanted to, so we did what we could to reduce our utility bills. After my divorce from my previous spouse I took in lodgers and worked side jobs to help pay the mortgage. Now the rooms are full of kids and DH won't let me rent the couch out.

We needed clothing. For the kids, at least. We only bought for ourselves what wore out and needed to be replaced. Socks, underwear, and DH's work shoes were the only things I bought new. Everything else came from the thrift store, garage sales, freecycle, and the like. I broke out the sewing machine to mend and alter things. The baby was in cloth diapers, sort of. See the microfiber towels I mentioned in my earlier post? They worked great and were cheap. Hey, I washed them.

We needed to be healthy & clean. We got a cheaper health insurance plan for DH and the kids. I gave up my private health insurance entirely, because I could get some care through the VA. I stopped going to the hair salon and let my hair grow out. I also learned how to trim DH's hair so he could go longer between barbershop cuts, and cut the kids' hair at home. I washed my face with soap instead of cleanser, and didn't buy cosmetics.

We needed transportation. Or rather, DH had to get to work. Other than his commute and a monthly trip to the grocery store, the car stayed parked to save gasoline. We sold my car, and I got a bicycle with a kid trailer for the times I needed to go somewhere in town when he was at work. (I didn't realize until we became a one car family just how much money it really cost to keep a car maintained.)

We needed communications. DH needed his cell phone for work, and he insisted that I needed a phone. His cell phone has no touch screen, no data plan, no internet plan, limited texting, and fewer minutes. We pay $16 a month for a house phone instead of a second cell phone for me.

We needed entertainment. The kids play at the park. Our library has something for the kids going on at least five days a week, and we borrow books and movies there. (I think the last movie I saw in theaters was Battle: Los Angeles. I wish I'd picked a better one.) We still have no cable, in fact we have no television, but we kept the computer and internet. DH gave up his online game subscription (but eventually I made him get it back because 50 cents a day to keep him from driving me nuts was a bargain). I gave up my martial arts classes. 

After doing all that for several months, we saved enough money to stop panicking. I call it my crash diet system of financial planning. We still do most of the things on that list, just because they're habit now. It's nice to be able to use the money we save to buy presents and treats occasionally.

So, and this is the part that might ruffle feathers, if you whine about how tough things are while you're fiddling with your smartphone- I'm going to laugh at you. You have been warned.