Sunday, October 4

Getting serious

I've been living frugally for most of my life. That's not to say that I've always been the strict definition of frugality.

My disability certainly made things harder, but particularly being careful with money. Before my mom moved to Seattle, any grocery trip meant a walk. That wasn't always possible. Other times, even preparing food I already had was simply too much to consider.

But, throughout most of my life, I have been acutely aware of my money and how it is spent. I have tried to spend within reason. At times, though, just staying on my medications while uninsured put me in debt every month. Tim brought a lot more money into the equation, though there were more expenses to consider, as well. And we've spent the last 3 years together paying off his oral surgery, his student loans and our combined medical expenses.

So I hope you can appreciate what I mean when I say that we're "getting serious" about our debt reduction efforts.

Of course, we were already planning on making larger payments against our debt, now that we aren't forking over $502 a month to insurance. But we got a nice little spur in our proverbial hindquarters the other day: My contract work may not last much longer. It's a convoluted story, full of "if" and "maybe" and "could," so I won't delve into it. The point is, we don't know how much longer we can count on the extra $900 a month -- almost 1/3 of our monthly income.

I probably have at least another few months for sure. I'm hoping for at least six, which I think is relatively realistic. The kind of changes that may occur would most likely take 3-6 months to get decided, and even then they may not affect the majority of the work I do.

Even so, we have decided on a new goal: $1500 will go to debt each month. That's just over 1/2 of our earnings, so it will be dicey at times. But if we can accomplish this, we should be out of credit card debt in 6 months.

Essentially, we will have money to pay rent, buy groceries, get our prescriptions and have our in-home entertainment of DirecTV and Netflix. Up until we get back into therapy, there will be about $250 of wiggle room. But there are other draining costs to deal with in the meantime. A speeding ticket from our move down will take a chunk. We have some checks to send back to doctors in Seattle. And I need to see a dentist asap about some cavities.

That's not to say we'll be living entirely hand-to-mouth. Currently, we're having to replenish our cupboards, which is always a budget drain. Once we're a little less Old Mother Hubbard, we can scale back on groceries. And that will free up some funds for the occasional meal out. (Emphasis on occasional.)

I've already started preparing Tim for the idea that we'll be buying only sale items, preferably ones we have coupons for. This may sound simplistic, but remember that Tim has severe ADD. He has trouble knowing what he wants until he's in the store, which is to say that his cravings develop as his eyes roam the aisles. An expensive habit, to say the least, but one that he's working on.

It probably goes without saying that more cooking will be important. In the past, it's been a problem because of energy. I frequently lacked the energy to get the ingredients, let alone actually prepare the meal. Part of this was also the depression making small tasks feel overwhelming.

Here in Arizona, though, Tim is doing most of the driving, which frees up a lot of my energy. In addition, the sunshine is helping with my depression. Overall, then, I'm finding it easier to accomplish my daily tasks. That will be huge, when it comes to staying within budget.

Of course, another big boost comes from my determination to use a slow cooker in meal preparation. I find that cooking sounds a lot less onerous if it mainly involves my dumping ingredients into a pot, then coming back 7 hours later and declaring it dinner. I've already had one successful meal through this method. I cobbled together a spicy sauce by grabbing whatever we had on hand and mixing to taste. Then I slathered it on some chicken in the slow cooker and, 6 hours later, it was a tasty entree.

Besides cooking, the biggest obstacle will be not eating while out and about. There are several places in this area that we still consider rare treats. There are few, if any, Dairy Queens in Seattle city limits. But there is one about a mile from our apartment. A couple of blocks from that is a Sonic. Luckily, DQ has a semi-regular buy-one-get-one coupon in Sunday papers, which will allow us an indulgence or two; and Sonic has a daily happy hour that gives us half off their oh-so-tasty drinks. In the end, it will be about strategy rather than total deprivation.

At least, that's what I'm trying to convince Tim. He has been tethered to the apartment, for fear of going for a walk/bike ride and being stranded with hunger pangs. It's a valid enough fear, since most of his food is sugary and/or insubstantial. And in Arizona heat, Quaker bars will become a gooey mess. Luckily, Walgreen's and CVS have both been discounting their canned nuts lately. I pointed out that these would be a good, lasting snack to carry with him in a backpack. He's agreed to give it a try.

If it works, he can go burn off some energy for free as necessary. That will help keep him from being so antsy at night, since that leads to a desire to go out -- which always seems to lead to spending money. As for myself, I'm trying to get back into working out. The fitness center is mere steps away from our door. That should take up any restless feelings I have, as well as getting me closer to my goal of overall health. Gotta love those two-fers.

All this planning, of course, is not to say that I expect success immediately. It will take time for Tim and I to adjust to these strictures. We'll do our best to accomplish the goals, but there will be a learning curve. For this reason, I included some broader expenses than we are currently using. For example, we aren't using all that much gas at present, but I budgeted for $100 per month. In our first month here, we probably used closer to $70 -- and that included a lot of back-and-forth as we looked for home furnishings. And as I mentioned earlier, I budgeted for therapy, even though we're not yet back into that groove.

Still, having these numbers in the budget provides us some much-needed padding. If we come in under budget, it will be a psychological boost. In addition, I hope it will prove to be a source of "fun" money, so that we can go out once in awhile in order to stay sane.

So that's our plan. That's our "getting serious." I wish there were some pithy way to sum it up; some wisdom I could impart to you. But I think I better save any and all wisdom for keeping in budget.

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Blogger Meg said...

We go through different periods where we tighten up the purse strings more. We just opened another checking account just for food to help us budget that better. Food has always been our downfall and even though our diet is soooo much better -- and cheaper -- than it was and we don't want to screw with that per se, we do want to have a much better idea of how much we're spending so we can compensate as needed.

Speaking of, I hope Tim will start eating better. A sugary diet can have lifelong -- and expensive -- consequences even for those who don't pack on the pounds. Fortunately, there is hope. My husband's diet is slowly but surely improving. He's always been one of those who could seemingly eat whatever he wanted, but he's realized that won't last forever. And more importantly, perhaps, he's realized that he feels MUCH better now that he's eating fewer sweets, not drinking sugary drinks, and not drinking anything caffeinated -- even though he didn't really have any diagnosed health problems yet!

Unfortunately, processed carbs are cheap in this country so you have to be careful when tightening the budget that you leave enough room for healthy food. Fortunately, if you can kick the unhealthy snacks, that leaves a lot more room in the food budget!

October 5, 2009 at 1:46 PM

Blogger Angelia said...

My husband and I are in the beginning steps of creating a new budget. We are getting serious as well. We have committed to each give up one 'habit' or 'fun' thing and put it towards a bill. We are cutting our cable television as we don't watch all that often. It's amazing how much money you can "find" when you really start looking around and tracking your spending.

October 6, 2009 at 7:41 PM

Anonymous Mrs. Accountability said...

Welcome to Arizona! Glad to hear of another PF blogger living here. :-) The weather is getting so nice, it will start to get much cooler by the end of October (if you're in the low desert). If you garden, or plan to garden, send me an email if you have any questions. Right now is our best time of year to plant! I've got Swiss Chard, spinach, radishes, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and onions planted in the last couple of weeks. I was hoping to get more lettuce planted and some peas over the weekend, but it will have to wait until next weekend.

October 12, 2009 at 6:52 PM


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