Saturday, February 28, 2009

February in Review

For some reason, I spent most of the month of January thinking that it was February. So when February really did come around, it felt exceptionally long, especially for the shortest month of the year! It was a good month though, financially speaking, something I was not expecting. Last month we found out that Mike was among the many people who would have to take take 10 unpaid furlough days over the next five months, resulting in a temporary 10% pay cut. Perhaps I was a little more cryptic, and dramatic, than I needed to be when I posted about it, but it was difficult news to swallow. Yes, we're extremely fortunate that so far he won't need to be laid off. And yes, it could have been so much worse than 10%! But when you're living paycheck to paycheck, and using every last penny of those paychecks just to get basic needs met.. 10% feels enormous, and at times insurmountable. I allowed myself to feel extraordinarily frustrated for a good part of the last month... and then I moved on.

We got our tax return and used it as carefully and deliberately as we possibly could. We paid off some outstanding bills, got our Wii repaired (an $85 fix that we'd been waiting on since December), and paid a portion to our lowest balance credit card. Once that was all taken care of, it was on to the task at hand: adjusting our budget to accommodate the 10% decrease in pay. I have to laugh when I read or hear most tips on stretching your dollar - things like bringing your own coffee to work instead of going to Starbucks, getting your hair cut every 10 weeks instead of 6, going out to eat just once a month. Etc. We are way, way beyond that. We never go to Starbucks, never EVER go to hair salons, and "going out to eat" consists of infrequent $5 Hot N Ready pizzas from Little Caesars. We don't go out to the movies (one of my favorite things) save but once or twice a year. We conserve water, conserve electricity, don't shop for clothes - or anything, really - unless it is a necessity. I thought our budget was just about as stripped down as we could get it, but we've managed to strip it even further. I'm strangely proud of the progress we've made on our groceries.

Just a few short months ago we were spending upwards of $800 a month on groceries. As of this month, we have cut that in half (without compromising the quality or quantity of the food we eat) We've been shopping the sales, clipping coupons, utilizing our Dollar Tree and Grocery Outlet, and only shopping twice a month instead of weekly. It's become a sort of game, and I have to say that as exhausting as it is to shop 6 different stores on one Saturday - just for a few weeks of groceries - the prize is worth the effort.

All told, we ended up shaving 2473.83 off our total debt for the month of February, and are feeling cautiously optimistic about March. On Mike's next payday, we will already be one third of the way through the furloughs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another way to save money

My latest discovery!

My Homeschool Rewards is a program that sells gift cards - for everything, from gas and groceries to your favorite restaurants, clothing stores, book stores and toy stores. If you're a homeschooling family, you can register for an account (it's free to sign up) and you receive cash back on every purchase that you make, as well as purchases that others make on your behalf. You can use the gift cards on yourself for your everyday purchases, or give them as gifts. If you're not a homeschooling family, you can still buy all your gift cards there, and the cash back based on your purchases will go to the homeschool family of your choosing. We tried it out for the first time this week, and I was amazed at how simple it was. We ordered a gift card to Dick's Sporting Goods to get Paxton some cleats, a Chevron card for gas, and an Amazon card to get Bibles for the boys. The shipping was FAST (2 or 3 days), and our account already reflects our $1.50 cash back. Cool! Best of all, they only accept electronic checks as payment, so we had to have the cash on hand to buy them. No temptation to use a credit card and go further into debt.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Talking About Money

I read a Debt Support message board. It's refreshing to hear other women's stories, no matter where they are on their journeys. I love that people are sharing where they've been, where they're going, and where they never hope to be again. A lot of that sharing is of ideas, concepts, and inspiration, but a lot of it is cold, hard numbers as well. Yesterday there was a post from a new member, who introduced herself and then said that she couldn't share any numbers, because she'd shared something before, and got "scolded" by a family member for giving away sensitive information online. I think that's interesting.

Talking about debt is a sensitive subject, and before I started this blog, I asked Mike how he felt about it. (He, as I suspected, didn't care in the least) Sensitive or not, I'm not ashamed of our debt. It is what it is. I would be ashamed however if I shared other kinds of financial information that other people quite freely share, not because the numbers are too high or too low, but because there's a time and a place, and all too often the line of good taste is crossed. It's kind of ironic to me that people will talk (ie: brag) about how much money they make, how much they spend on their house and their cars and their "toys", but talking about their debt is too personal. I was at a party - in a roomful of people - and someone was talking about his first post-college job that he'd just started. He then proceeded to tell the room the exact amount of his salary and his signing bonus. That to me is the kind of sharing that you just don't do in polite conversation. I'm never impressed with high salaries anyway, because it's such a small small piece of someone's financial picture... not the whole story. And what does it matter anyway? Would you think more highly of me if I said we brought home 90K a year? What if I said we brought home 30K, but we owned our house and our cars outright? What if it was actually 150K, but we owed 70K on credit cards? (None of those are real, by the way)

Who cares how much money someone makes? What do they do with it? Do they waste it? Do they use it to help others? Do they live within their means? Are they trying to keep up with the neighbors? Do they think "the guy with the most stuff wins"?

I guess I'm unusual in that I like to - politely - talk about money. I do. I never would have started this blog otherwise. Sometimes I'll share specifics, and sometimes I won't. But as long as I feel that I've shared honestly, and humbly, and remembered that at the end of the day money doesn't matter, I'll be happy.