House or Car?
My bright idea of driving less was set ablaze by a need to save money. For the first half of 2011 we were preparing our home to sell. We thought that if we sold the house and found something less expensive we could lighten up a bit with the doom and gloom feeling of our finances.
Our mortgage, with taxes and insurance and interest and all the other things they add into that escrow payment, is $1100 each month. We tried twice to refinance and the loan to value ratio was not enough. If we could rent something for $800 a month, then selling the house felt like the answer. As we got a lot of repairs made and upgrades completed and we looked at all we would have to pack up and the soaring cost of relocating, we cringed. We had spent nearly $2500 on fixing things in the house and we could have paid down another debt somewhere. How was saving money to move, selling the house, finding something about $300 a month cheaper, going to help? It was adding a lot more pressure and a lot more expenses. Enter the crazy idea of selling the van. It was our next largest expense.
How Did It Come to This?
This house and car removal was not our first choice in knocking down our expenses. These are drastic measures that we have come to after years of tracking and budgeting each dollar. Yet, over the years we have made the decision to add to our family. Over ten years we have added four children, and taken on nearly $186,000 in debt. It’s the sort of debt that middle class America has sold to us and we have bought it all. House, cars and education. Those three categories are where we owe all our money. Our every day living expenses eat up the rest of our income. The choices we make with the leftover dollars have been consumed and not saved, spent and not given back to our debtors.
To get to the dramatic conclusion of selling your home or car you may be in a pretty desperate place. I am very happy to say, that while we certainly owe a lot of money, we don’t have any delinquent accounts and we can pay our bills every month, even if sacrifices must be made. By sacrifice, I mean they are middle class sacrifices, not the kind that equate to not feeding your children or having a safe place to sleep. We might not be getting new clothes or having a hair appointment or eating out.
Here’s a list of other measures we have taken over the years to save on our expenses. I will try to explain why we made these choices and not others, as best I can. Do you see anything we could be doing differently?
- Our utilities include water, sewer, garbage, recycling, electric, gas, phone and internet. We conserve resources as best we can, but know we can do better. Our phone is the basic-basic service. No long distance, no caller ID, no call waiting. We don’t have cell phones, so we have kept our land line. We have internet for about $30 a month because it is our everything. It’s Brent’s connection to work and mine to the world. I could certainly do without it, but I don’t want to. Brent cannot work with out it.
- When we moved in we installed a programmable thermostat. In the winter is hangs around 68 and in the summer about 78. We used to be able handle a little more cold and heat but I am afraid as we age we are getting to be more wimpy. I do turn off the system when we leave the house.
- We mow our own grass (except when we can’t, such as being away for extended periods). We used a reel mower for many years and then we couldn’t find anyone to sharpen the blade properly. We now borrow our neighbors electric mower as needed. We had a chemical lawn service for two years to get things into better shape, but canceled it and now only treat what we think needs treated. Lime once a year and we pay the children to dig out dandelions at a penny each.
- We do most of our own maintenance but have paid good people to do larger jobs for us when the time vs money factor favored money. We also put off a lot of house maintenance until we have either time or money. There was a large hole over one of our doors for nearly five years.
Clothing and other Shopping
|The details of our shopping. The $168 Everything Birth expense was reimbursed by a friend.|
- We very rarely buy clothes, especially new ones. We have been very thankful to a lot of family and friends for hand me downs. Any gaps we have in our wardrobes have been filled at consignment sales and stores. Socks and underwear are purchased new, most of the time, and very infrequently, as in once a year in most cases. I looked at our Mint.com account and it showed we had spend $212 in clothing from January through June this year. Some of the general shopping is clothing as well. I need to get more detailed with my tracking.
- We simply try not to buy things. We have purchased some birthday presents and books. Most books are bought from the Scholastic school fliers at a discount. Many of our birthday presents for others are books from those orders. Our shopping expenses are broken out above. I was shocked by the “other shopping” category so I included a list of each transaction and their amounts. Everything Birth was for more cloth diapers. The BigLots purchase was for a set of bunk beds for Elliot for his 7th birthday. It was beyond the budget but his party cost me less than $20, so we splurged on something we felt we needed, beds. See how we make excuses.
- Admittedly we don’t do a great job here. I am including the charts above to make my case. I use to strive for spending $125 each week on groceries and all the other things that go in the cart, I am now up to about $150-175 a week. $3773 over 6 months works down to $629/m or $146/wk on average for six people.
- I use coupons if I can, but I not great about this. Most of what I buy there are not coupons for. I don’t purchase things just because I have a coupon. My food values don’t line up with many packaged products.
- I make as much as I can from scratch, including our laundry detergent and most recently our yogurt. We make bread in a machine often, but not often enough to supply us with the 1.5lb loaf we consume each day. When I cook from scratch I omit a lot things that are not, in my opinion or budget, necessary.
- We are part of a meal swapping group, that I started about three and half years ago. I will explain this whole concept in another post.
- We garden minimally, have a share and a half in our local CSA, shop the farmers market and try our best to buy things that are ripe in this season.
- My budget for food is centered around weight. I try not to pay more than $2 a pound for anything. If something goes over this amount, such as maple syrup, I give something up in other areas of our diet, such as meat or salad dressings or crackers. I give them up for other reasons, some of those things are not a part of my current values as well. I also make salad dressing from scratch when we have salad.
- We don’t eat cereal. This started about 18months ago. I was tired of picking up empty bowls with milk puddles every morning. We were snacking on cereal after school and buying $10 in boxes a week. I could get good coupon deals on cereal sometimes, but not every week. We quit cereal. By making this one small change, we also reduced our milk consumption. We were finishing five gallons of milk each week, that was nearly $110 a month for breakfast foods. Now we have a hot breakfast most mornings, or fruit. This would also make a good post later.
- I’d like to say we don’t eat out often, but it seems that it’s one of those things that we do a lot of sometimes and not much of at others. When we do eat out, it’s water for everyone, no desserts and a lot of meal sharing between the crowd. Coupons when we can. We took a miserable vacation (the wedding was great) to North Carolina in June and eat out every single meal, that hurt, but I loved the break from cooking.
- Brent takes his own coffee to work. He also has a pot there to make more. As a bonus to me, we have an espresso machine, gifted to us by my sister, that Brent turns into my morning mocha, complete with my home made chocolate syrup.
All the Rest of our Money
- Seems that every single other dollar we have goes to medical expenses and education. Education in the form of paying off loans and enrichment activities for the children. Medical, for our health and well being. There are a lot of us, and we spend most of our winter at the Dr.’s office and the rest of the year at the dentist, optometrist, counselors, pharmacy….
I really feel like we have tried to cut back, but know we can do better. I really would love to here what you have to say on all of this. What have we done wrong, what could we do differently? What did I forget to mention here? How are you doing it?
I also feel that putting all this personal finance information out there for the world to read and comment on is very difficult. So many people are struggling more than we are and I don’t feel that I have any space to complain. I am trying to understand it all and make the best of what I can.