Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finances in Line: Getting Out of a Budget Funk

It's been 3 1/2 years since I went back to school to get this PhD. At that time we cut back to 1 income (John's) for living expenses, daycare and household repairs, etc. with my 'second' smaller salary covering tuition, parking, books, etc. This is the third (non-consecutive) semester in those 7 semesters plus 4 summer sessions that I've not had an income.

For some reason this time it's harder than before. Maybe because we have preschool tuition to pay on top of daycare. Maybe because we have more medical expenses than we've had other times. Maybe because we have a different budget worked out.

Maybe because things we've had for a while are starting to wear out. I'm noticing that things I thought were 'new' really aren't any more. For example, I was all bummed that a set of our towels was too worn to use for effective drying not to mention they were stained and had bleach spots. I said to John "Would you look at this! They're practically new." John replied (with a straight face, no less), "Oh, yeah, we got those for our wedding 11 years ago!" Oh yeah. Duh. Not to mention the 'new' shoes that fell apart that were 4 years old (and worn almost daily) or the 'new' jeans that wore through that were 3 years old (and worn at least twice a week).

We also have 2 kids growing out of clothes left and right. Two vehicles that are 11 and 7 years old respectively. Not to mention our 50+ year old house. And the little fact that we are now trying to pay cash for everything and pay down what little debt we do have (even though it's mostly self-loans from our personal savings accounts).

It seems like our list of 'needs' are much longer than our budget. Never mind the fact that we won't go hungry or naked or have the house fall down or anything like that. Add to all of this the fact that John's had a couple of paychecks 'under budget', and I was getting seriously frustrated by the whole thing. I've been fighting a serious case of the "I wants" lately.

I decided to do two things:
1. Go through my cookbooks and several issues of Cooking Light Magazine that I have in my kitchen bookcase to find some new and frugal recipes to make to mix things up and stay healthy.
2. "Shop" my own closet, starting with a 'bottom' (or other main piece) and see how many outfits I could make from what I have.

It's helped more than I thought. Here's how:

1. I have several new and 'cheap' recipes to try. Two are on this week's menu: Peanut Butter Pancakes (a definite keeper!) and Easy Black Bean Soup.

2. I know what common recipe ingredients to add to my master grocery list to pick up on sales to make additional recipes (canned artichoke hearts, whole garlic, shrimp, fish, EVOO, parsnips, etc.). Two that are on this week's list: EVOO and parsnips (both on sale) and I bought garlic last week for a quarter for a big clove.

3. I know what pieces in my closet I don't wear and probably won't. I can either sell those or donate them, simplifying my wardrobe and making space in my tiny closet.

4. I know where the 'holes' in my wardrobe are so I can fill those when we have the budget to do so, thus stretching my closet even more.

5. I have several 'new' outfits to wear - things I wouldn't have thought of before that look nice and make me feel like I'm stylish (Ha!).

6. I found out I really have a lot more clothes than I thought - enough to make well over 100 outfits when I mix-and-match pieces. **Blush**

The biggest thing: I found out how very, very blessed I am.

How?

Many of the recipes I found I have most of the ingredients to make in my house already.
I have more clothes than I ever thought possible and I like them more than I had thought I did.
I have a mother that taught me to cook very healthfully (and cheap!).
I have a mother that taught me not to buy anything but a dress unless it goes with at least 3 other pieces I have in my closet (i.e. buy a blouse that goes with more than one pair of pants or skirts or both).
I have a mother that taught me to dress in a very classic style, so I have very few things in my closet that will go out of style.

After doing this, I'm more committed to living on a budget. As tiring as it is at times, the sacrifices are worth it.

Having two people in graduate school without accruing debt is a good thing.
Paying preschool tuition and daycare with cash is a good thing.
Having two paid for vehicles is a good thing.
Being able to pay ourselves back for household repairs and upgrades is a good thing.
Being able to pay off our small amount of credit card debt is a good thing.

And all of it is used by God to refine me further for His glory and not my own. Teaching me to be thankful for what I have. Teaching me to be a good steward of what He has given me. Do I have a ways to go? Yes. But I am slowly learning...

Soli Deo Gloria.
Always.

For more financial inspiration, see Money Saving Mom.

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Lea