home life, money

What Do You Spend Money On?

I mentioned yesterday that money has been on my mind lately, with all the changes we’re making in our house. I’ve been looking up a lot of financial information, including how to save. I’ve always saved money: I started babysitting at 14, got my first job at 16, and always had at least one job until I was almost 30. Most of my money went into savings, to the extent that I traveled for six months without working and barely put a dent in my savings account. Marrying someone with debt and having children makes it harder to save, of course, but not impossible. My problem was that I wasn’t changing my own habits, I was just factoring in more people and expenses. So I looked into saving.

There is no “right” way to save money. Some articles say to put half of your income into savings every month, some say 25%. Some financial institutions say you should have one year of your salary in savings, some say you need 3 months of living expenses, but the big question is, as always – How?

I don’t have an answer. I have something that works for my family, and it is different than much of what I’ve been reading about lately. The Frugalwoods pulled me in because much of their lifestyle is appealing to me, but the more I read, the more jealousy I felt. This couple was on the same page, while I’ve been working for four years to get my husband to a point that is far from my own state of mind. They seem to have more savings than me. They have more property. They just seem happier and better! It’s the Internet-persona curse, right? I have no doubt that all of those things are true, but when I stepped away from their blog, I forced myself to think about their lifestyle.

They mentioned that they went out to dinner maybe twice a year, and always brewed coffee at home. Those two things are somewhat important to me. My husband and I try to go out on a coffee date once a month, and sometimes I will go out with friends for coffee. I still brew a lot at home, and I don’t hit up Starbucks every day, or even every week, but I like the option. Same with going out to dinner. My husband and I probably go out to dinner 4-6 times a year, but we also love to order Chinese, and sometimes we get pizza or burgers as a family treat (maybe once a month). Though it’s a bit cheaper than going out to eat, it’s still an unnecessary expense. But we enjoy it, and sometimes it’s a family thing, or just a sanity-saving thing. So it’s worth the expense to us.

These two factors alone made me turn a critical eye to what we spend money on. I like to buy little treats for the boys when I’m out and see something perfect for them, but now I don’t have to do that. If I see something great, and it’s a good deal, I can buy it, but I now put it away for later. They already have so many toys, they don’t need something else cheap and fun “just because”. By focusing on going green, saving green, and minimalizing, we are changing many aspects about our lives, and everything needs to be evaluated as we change.

Basically, the best answer to “How do you save money?” doesn’t focus on money, it focuses on you. What is important to you? What do you want to spend money on, and what would you rather skimp on?

home life, money

Finding Your Focus

The tagline of the blog states my family’s mission, if you will: to go green, save green, and minimalize. I’m going to be breaking this down a lot because I feel like it’s a pretty loaded statement; there are a lot of goals there, and a lot of ways to meet those goals. Going green can be pretty easy if you can shell out money for the best organic, recyclable products. Saving green could be easiest if you buy cheap products that are full of chemicals and shrouded in plastic. Minimalizing could be easier if you just trash all the things you don’t need anymore.

But part of our goal is to accomplish these three things without sacrificing the others. Due to tax season, money has been on my mind, so that’s what I want to focus on first.

Studies have shown that most Americans don’t have $1,000 in savings, and we are lucky to have more than that. We have enough to cover a major unexpected expense, or if everything goes along smoothly (knock on wood), enough to cover over a year of our typical bills and expenses. We should have more saved, according to some reports, but I feel comfortable with where we are right now.

Even so, with money on my mind, it’s not the most important thing in our lives. We have been making changes lately, some which benefit our bank accounts, and some not so much:

  1. I am working from home. This meant a huge slash in our monthly income, but also greatly improves our family dynamics. Quitting my job was a tough choice for me, because I accepted it thinking it was my “career”, the one thing I could do until retirement. The truth was, it wasn’t all I thought it would be, but I was determined to stick it out. The paycheck, benefits, and time off made it worth it on paper. In reality, it affected my mood, and gave me near-constant anxiety attacks. I didn’t have the time, energy, or desire to do anything at home – chores or fun. We finally realized that if I quit and worked from home, a lot of other things could change for the better.
  2. My son goes to a closer, cheaper daycare, part-time. Since I am working from home in a field I’m experienced in, I knew I could set my own hours and get enough work during that time to help offset our lost income. There was a certain preschool I wanted my son to attend since before he was old enough, but the hours weren’t long enough once I got a full-time job. Now that my time is flexible, I knew I wanted him to go to this school. After the initial enrollment fee, the monthly cost saves us over $200 a month compared to where he went before. Also, I get to spend two additional days a week with him, so it’s win-win!
  3. We use less gas. This is another win-win: spend less money, make less pollution. My son’s school is less than 3 miles from our house, while his old school was 12 miles away. It used to take us 20 minutes to get to his school – and that’s with good traffic on the highway! Now it takes me less than 20 minutes round-trip on surface roads. Less time in the car, less gas used, fewer fill-ups at the pump, less money spent on gas, and more time I can work from home, because I don’t have to cut half an hour out of my work time to go pick him up.
  4. I do more at home. I don’t mind household tasks, with the exception of vacuuming/sweeping and putting away leftovers (both of those are my husband’s jobs). I like washing dishes. I like cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, and tidying the rest of the house. I have the time and energy and desire to do all of this, so it’s not on my husband and me to try and find time to do these jobs after work or on the weekend. Having a clean, attractive house is important to me, and makes me feel so much better. While I place a lot of my anxiety issues on my old job, I admit that some of that unhappiness came from living in a pigpen.
  5. I cook dinners. I love cooking, and even when I lived alone I enjoyed cooking really nice dinners for myself. Working a stressful job more than full-time meant I would get home late, have no energy to cook, and would prepare just about anything. My husband cooks too, so it wasn’t like we went hungry, but the kids ate a lot of frozen food, and we ate out a lot more because that’s such an easy choice to make, and so easy to pick up on your way home. Now I enjoy cooking dinner several nights a week, and we sit down to dinner together before 8pm, and the whole mood in the house just seems better.
  6. I plan dinners. My husband used to do the grocery shopping because I hate grocery shopping, and didn’t want to give up my meager spare time to go to the store. My husband would stop by the store every other day, picking up something for that night’s dinner, or spending our entire grocery budget on stuff that wouldn’t make many complete meals. Now that I have more time at home, I go to the store with a two week meal plan in mind. I buy pretty much everything we need in one trip, and know that we will use it within the two week period. Our grocery bill is under control, and we’re eating good stuff for dinners.

More changes will come as the seasons change, since we have a clothesline in the backyard and are planning our first garden. I’ll update about that as it happens. I also realize that what I’ve laid out here doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not presenting it as a solution. Not everyone can work from home, or send their kid to a part-time preschool. I’ll delve more into that in later posts, while explaining why it worked so well for us.

That being said, with all the worrying we do about money, it’s not always the most important thing. So we might be “saving green” as our mission states, but we have also lost a lot of green in terms of my previous job’s salary. The question is, is it worth it? For us, yes. We are focused on saving money, but in a way that best benefits our family. Having a huge nest egg isn’t worth anything to us if we don’t have a rich home life.

What is your family’s current focus?